Image source: Ontario Regiment Museum YouTube

Published: September 8th, 2020

When the Ontario Regiment Museum shut down due to the pandemic, Jeremy Blowers knew he needed extra precautions to keep his future visitors safe.

Located in Oshawa, the Ontario Regiment Museum holds many of Canada’s iconic military vehicles, firearms, and equipment. Visitors can book tank rides and learn about historic moments in war through battle reenactments.

While there’s no shortage of interest, museums–according to proper reopening protocol–need to take extra measures to prevent a potential outbreak. Scientists and doctors have long warned that the COVID-19 virus may spread better in enclosed spaces, one such as a museum exhibition.

As with many businesses that have opened indoor spaces, the Ontario Regiment Museum is now screening body temperature and requiring visitors to wear masks. But relative to the more renowned museums like the Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario Regiment Museum is far smaller and has fewer staffers. When there is innumerable maintenance to be done on both the building and the historical pieces, it needs all hands on deck to keep the facility functional.

To help allocate resources to where they’re needed the most, the museum turned to Cloud Constable and its Animated Virtual Agent (AVA) for help. Through a collaboration with Intel, Cloud Constable created Master Corporal Lana, an AI persona, to greet visitors at the door. Lana is abetted with Intel’s RealSense cameras running facial recognition developed on the OpenVINO AI framework. The system can measure a visitor’s face temperature and record answers to a series of screening questions.

“One of them [the benefits] is a sense of safety,” said Jeremy Blowers, executive director of the Ontario Regiment Museum. “When you’re having a person to person interaction, you are exposing yourself to each other. In addition to that, if from a management perspective, you’re leaving questions in the screening process open to error, wherein a computerized system, the specific questions will be asked in a certain order, they won’t be missed. In addition, the responses will be recorded both for alerting a possible security public health breach, but also for an organization’s liability perspective.”

Blowers told IT Business Canada that the AI assistant didn’t begin as a screening tool. The personal was initially employed as an information hub to greet visitors, provide directions, and promote the museum’s events. But during the COVID pandemic, both the museum and Cloud Constable, the company behind Lana, though it could do more to enhance safety.

The museum staffers first tested out Lana to replace its paper screening process. After positive reception, the museum opened it to the public.

Lana accepts both visual and audio inputs and can track a person’s face. Visitors can nod or share their head and verbally tell Lana answers to questions. The cameras are based on Intel’s RealSense technology and built on the OpenVINO toolkit.

Lana’s enrollment with the Royal Ontario Regiment museum spawned from a cohort of factors. Cloud Constable CEO Michael Pickering explained that the company had originally planned its Animated Virtual Agent to be an interactive concierge. The product was slated for Spring 2020, but because COVID all but halted all public events, Cloud Constable modified Lana with Intel’s RealSense cameras to be able to perform temperature checking.

“We’re using an Intel Real Sense camera for vision,” said Pickering. “We’ve got pan and tilt capabilities built into the mount. Our solution uses face detection algorithms to figure out where faces are and then aims the camera to try to put the face in the middle of the field of view. On the same mount, we have a thermal scanner as well, with a slightly narrower field of view. As the main camera is tracking the face and trying to keep the face in the middle of the field of view, it automatically puts the face in the middle of the field of view of the thermal scanner.”

When Lana detects an anomaly, be it in temperatures or an answer to the questionnaire, she immediately alerts the staff by sending a text message along with the person’s picture.

Lana works alone when it greets visitors, but Blowers said a museum staffer will help direct visitors to it. The museum is hoping to have Lana function autonomously in the future without any human supervision.

Still, there’s work to be done. Pickering explained that although he believes Lana functions well in a climate-controlled environment, he’s concerned about environmental factors that could skew the readings. Elements such as vehicle exhaust and open-air environment could potentially elevate the temperature readings.

“We have to properly set up a baseline across the two environments and also the new approach for screening visitors is to do them even outside before they come into the museum,” he said.

The museum is finally starting to pick up traffic again after months of dormancy. Meanwhile, Master Corporal Lana seems to be fitting in well with the guests.

“The feedback has been excitement and intrigue. It meets that technology and museum piece. So there’s something interesting at the museum. I’ve noticed some visitors enjoying just trying to speak to Lana because she is also with her original role. “

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