Forget history. During your next visit to a museum along the National Mall, you might think you've stepped into the future. The Smithsonian Institution is rolling out robot docents.
The Smithsonian is now the first museum complex to use Pepper robots to enhance the visitor experience.
Pepper can tell stories, pose for pictures and dance. It answers frequently asked questions, including inquiries about directions, bathrooms and more.
Visitors will find the Pepper robots at the Smithsonian Castle, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of African Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and sculpture garden and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
“When people see Pepper, their faces light up. And they smile. And there's always a big crowd,” said Rachel Goslins, director of the Arts and Industry building.
Pepper is programmed for each exhibit. At the African art museum, it teaches basic Swahili. At the Hirshhorn Museum, it offers background on a nearby work of art.
Softbank robotics donated 25 peppers to the Smithsonian, valued at $25,000 each. But institution leaders say the four-foot tall robots won't be everywhere and they won't replace docents or volunteers.
“Like any other tech, whether it's a tablet or a video or a virtual reality experience, we're always trying to figure out how we can use new tools to engage people,” Goslins said.
This is a pilot program. The Smithsonian plans to deploy robots to more museums in June.