Meet Ross – Arfa Software Technology Park’s very own robot receptionist.
The robot-oriented support staff, nicknamed Ross, uses sensors to detect people in front of it. When one steps in Ross’s line of sight, they are asked to use hand gestures to select one of three categories on the screen: Directions, Directory and Bored? Under the “bored” category, one can play tic tac toe with the receptionist. The robot laughs raucously when it is winning and makes sad sounds when it is losing the game.
Ross also has his own story which he likes to narrate to visitors. “I am from a far away planet called Krypto. My family lived there for 200,000 years. Last year, aliens attacked us and destroyed our planet. I managed to escape with my sister to live here on planet Earth. Information Technology University (ITU) gave us an opportunity and hired us as receptionists.”
Ross’s sister, called Mefox, also shows up on the screen and tries to learn about human facial expressions. She detects the emotions of the person standing in front of her and guesses whether the expression is happy, sad, disgusted or neutral.
Talha Rehmani, a faculty member at ITU says, “When you come up with a robot, it has to have a mechanism that increases interaction and engagement with humans.”
When people pass by, Ross introduces himself. He also quips, “good morning,” “welcome to ASTP. Would you like to hear my story?” “Have a nice day” and “pleased to meet you” to attract people towards itself. When one finishes using the device and start moving away, it bids them farewell.
Rehmani says that the inspiration for the robot came from his alma mater Carnegie Mellon University, which also has its own robotic receptionist. Once he returned from the United States, Rehmani knew that he wanted to set up something similar here. With the assistance of another faculty member, Dr Mohsin Ali and the enthusiastic support of ITU Vice Chancellor Dr Umar Saif, he was able to do it.
“The Punjab Information Technology Board Director General Faisal Yusuf provided us the space to build the robot. The staff at ASTP was very helpful in setting it up. We also have two research assistants working on the project,” says Rehmani.
Ross’s other services include providing a rough map of the ITU and the PITB when asked. In addition, if you select the “directory” category on the screen, you can look up names, designations and office locations of the ITU and the PITB employees in the building.
The team behind the robotic receptionist also plans to include contact information of every business and its employees at the ASTP. In the future, the receptionist will also be able to tell users the weather forecast for the day.
The robo-receptionist project has been fully functional since April 5, 2017. Ross has greeted 4,315 visitors, and 1,468 people have used it. The average interaction time with the robot has been between 45 seconds to 130 seconds.
Live feed is available when someone interacts with the robotic receptionist.
“Our future plan is to expand the Ross family. We want to make an Urdu version to guide native speakers and someday maybe even use it in an ATM or for support in poverty reduction initiatives like the Benazir Income Support Program,” says Rehmani. They are also open to other collaborations, he adds.
To follow Ross on Twitter: @ROSS_ITU
A view from Ross’s eyes: