Imagine Cup

Alaniarides

In 2010, me and Vangos Pterneas won the 1st place in the greek finals of the Imagine Cup competition (in Software Design category). Our project was Touring Machine, a personal tour guide. We presented it in the world finals in Poland where we had a lot of positive feedback. A year later, while we were planning to make it a product and we were going to release it in the WP7 marketplace, we submit the new version of our system to the Imagine Cup competition in the Interoperability category. This time we took the 1st place in the world finals! Here you can read few more info about our project or watch this video on youtube.

Touring Machine

Touring Machine is an innovative platform designed to offer a complete sightseeing experience for adults and children. It effectively combines various technologies in order to cover different needs and bring cultural education closer to everyone. Based on a powerful description generation engine and utilizing the Windows Phone 7 capabilities, Touring Machine maximizes the end-user experience.

Touring Machine for WP7

Any person visiting an archeological site can have a personal mobile tour guide. Our application (being location-aware) displays a list of all the nearby exhibits sorted from the closest (shown at the top) to the farthest (shown at the bottom of the list). As the user moves among the exhibits, this list is rearranged automatically taking account of mobile’s orientation. Furthermore, when an exhibit is approached which has not been previously visited, the phone vibrates and reads out the name of the exhibit. After an exhibit is chosen, the application generates the corresponding description as well as further multimedia data (videos, photos, etc).

The phone’s camera can be used for exhibit recognition. Given that the GPS is inactive indoors, the user may take a picture of an exhibit and a specialized image recognition algorithm will attempt to match the photo taken to one of the exhibits of the collection. As about those who cannot visit the actual exhibition, our system presents them the Photosynth equivalent of that place. This way, they can visit any museum or archaeological place in the world without having to travel!

The engine

The descriptions are the most essential elements of sightseeing guiding. Our platform uses a Natural Language Generation engine which produces descriptions on demand. This engine is named NaturalOWL and it is being developed for the last 4 years by the AUEB's Natural Language Processing group, that we are members of.

Our engine is fully customizable. As a result, different descriptions are generated according to the user’s preferences and characteristics. Since the text is created dynamically, we can define its various elements, such as the description language, the amount of information included, and the phraseology used. For example, descriptions addressed to kids should be simpler and use less complicated phrases than those addressed to adults. The user just has to define his preferences on the Options page and our engine generates the appropriate descriptions.

Moreover, the visitor’s history is taken into account. As a result, comparisons are created between the exhibit that is being described and those previously described (e.g. “Like the statue you saw earlier, this temple was constructed during the archaic period”). This way, touring becomes a special, personal experience. The user’s path uniquely defines its guiding. Also, by having access to the visitor’s history, the system is able to avoid generating the same information. For example, if a user has already read about what is the archaic period, Touring Machine will not explain it again, except if the user asks about it.

Our system can also generate descriptions that include spatial expressions depending on the user’s location (e.g. “In contrast to the temple on your left, which was build out of marble, this sanctuary is made of limestone”). GPS indications are vital considering this unique feature.

Other features

Touring Machine enhances user experience providing the following characteristics, too:

  • The user may listen to the descriptions through headphones. Text-to-speech conversion is accomplished via Bing Translate API.
  • The user may ask the digital guide questions about a specific exhibit (ege.g. "Who built this statue?") and get responses in natural language (ege.g. "The statue you are viewing was created by thea famous sculpture sculptor named Feidias"). This feature is extremely important, as it turns Touring Machine into a real tour guide.
  • Virtual 3D recreation of the location by placing photos of it in their appropriate relative position and orientation.
  • Touring Machine loads the photos using DeepZoom technology. This way, it is fully functional even when having to deal with slow Internet connections.
  • Our platform is fully integrated with Twitter (other social networks can also be added) enabling the user to view other visitors' comments about tours and exhibits.

As a result, the most remarkable tours collect better reviews. We also use Twitter to get answers for any question that our system cannot find appropriate data. For example, if someone asks “What other statues were created by Feidias?” and our system cannot display proper information, we automatically post the question to Twitter, and we hopehoping that someone will answer it. Then we process all the answers and we add the new information to our system’s ontology. This way, our system is expanded through a broad user community.

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