A very special guided tour of the Futures exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington took place recently.
The visitor was a self-driving, two-wheeled videoconferencing robot, being operated purely by eye movement over three thousand miles away in the UK by Lucinda, a disabled young woman who interacts and communicates with the world primarily through an eye-controlled computer. It was this technology that she was using to control the robot, enabling her to see, hear, speak and travel independently around the museum.
The tour is possibly the first time that eye control has been used with a telepresent robot in such a way.
The tour was a joint collaboration between Lucinda, the Smithsonian Museum and SpecialEffect, a UK charity who are specialists in helping people with severe disabilities to experience inclusion and a better quality of life through the innovative use of technology. They have supported Lucinda’s use of eye gaze for several years.
Lucinda, who’s currently studying at Southampton University, was particularly interested in aspects of the exhibition that related to sustainability, her specialist subject.
“As a Master’s student studying Sustainability, it was incredibly exciting to see and it was amazing to have had the opportunity to ask questions about the exhibits,” she said. “The live interaction made such a difference to the whole experience.”
“Due to my disability, travelling presents a range challenges. It would have been impossible for me to have visited the museum in person, let alone visit the actual exhibition. And to successfully do this with eye gaze whilst being 3000 miles away is nothing short of a spectacular achievement for all involved.”
“The eye gaze interface that was created and edited by SpecialEffect worked really well. It proves that the technology is continuing to help break down barriers that were once deemed impossible to overcome. I am extremely grateful to SpecialEffect and the Smithsonian for the fantastic experience.”
“The future is looking very exciting indeed!”
Dr Mick Donegan, the charity’s Founder and CEO, said, “In recent years many institutions such as museums have had the opportunity to offer virtual tours, but what we’ve demonstrated here is a breakthrough experience for visitors with even the most severe mobility problems, enabling them to interact and explore as independently as possible.”