Skip to main content

IBM’s Watson supercomputer powers Usher, an intelligent museum tour guide app

IBM Watson Usher musueum tour guide
Image used with permission by copyright holder
IBM’s Watson, a supercomputer equipped with the ability to process information more like a human than a computer, has quite an impressive resume: Jeopardy! champion, lawyer, and cookbook co-author, among other things. Now a group of researchers at IBM Research India is seeing if Watson could power a helpful museum tour guide in the form of an app.

A group of four IBM researchers in India recently unveiled the first version of Usher, “an intelligent tour companion.” In their paper about Usher, the group says there are three advantages Usher has over its traditional audio guide counterparts when used in a museum or art gallery: its use of smartphone sensors yields superior user context, it offers a Q&A interface, and it tells patrons if their social media friends are nearby.

“The ability to seamlessly track user context to provide rich semantic information and the cognitive capability to answer contextual queries means that Usher can enhance the user experience in a museum by multitudes,” the researchers write.

Usher IBM Watson museum guide - example
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Usher uses a smartphone’s accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass to determine a user’s current activity (walking, loitering, stationary) and where a user is looking, while Wi-Fi signals help to locate the user. This enables Usher to give contextual audio guidance (“On your left is the magnificent Mona Lisa”), but it also makes Usher ready to answer questions like “Who painted this?” without additional context.

When a user asks Usher a question via voice or typing, the user’s location and the question are relayed to a version of Watson. The paper says Usher’s understanding of where a user is standing helps users interact with it as they would with a human tour guide.

Usher, developed as an Android app for demo content, isn’t available to the public yet, but co-author Shubham Toshniwal says the intelligent tour companion has been received “pretty well” internally at IBM, according to MIT Technology Review. He foresees applications to other indoor spaces, including historical buildings and offices.

Toshniwal says indoor location tracking needs improvement, as Wi-Fi signals isn’t precise, according to MIT Technology Review. Apple’s iBeacon technology, which some museums are already using, may be one solution.

Editors' Recommendations

Jason Hahn
Jason Hahn is a part-time freelance writer based in New Jersey. He earned his master's degree in journalism at Northwestern…
How to use your iPad as a second monitor for your Mac
An iPad and an external display using Stage Manager in iPadOS 16.

One of the best parts of the Apple ecosystem is how neatly everything works together. Apple often gets flak for its "walled garden" approach, but when it works well, it enables the kind of productivity features that Android and PC rivals can only dream about. For example, you can use your iPad as a second screen for your Mac with minimal effort, and there's no need to fiddle with annoying cables and questionable software hacks.

Read more
You’re all wrong — 60Hz on the iPhone is fine
A video playing on the Apple iPhone 15 Plus.

The iPhone 15 launch feels like it was just yesterday, but rumors of the iPhone 16 are already floating around. Some of the most recent have been bad news for enthusiasts, as it seems Apple is happy to stick with one of the more controversial elements of the iPhone 15: a 60Hz refresh rate.

While some people have dismissed this as tech-bubble griping that no one in the actual public cares about, there's definitely some fire to go with all this smoke. A 60Hz refresh rate, while not criminal, is starting to look increasingly comical on Apple's $799-plus smartphones. After all, almost every single Android smartphone priced at more than $500 now has a 90Hz or even 120Hz display — so why are two of Apple's best smartphones languishing with objectively worse screen tech?

Read more
One of 2023’s most interesting Android phones just dropped
Realme GT5 Pro in ornage.

Not too long ago, the Google Pixel 4 arrived on the scene packing a Soli radar system that allowed Motion Sense. It enabled you to snooze alarms, mute calls, control music playback, and more — all by waving your hand over the screen. LG attempted something similar called Air Motion on the LG G8 ThinQ using an array consisting of a time-of-flight (ToF) camera and an infrared sensor.

It was cool to see, but hit-or-miss in real life. Unfortunately, the idea died. Google never put the Soli system on another Pixel phone, and LG shuttered its entire phone division. But apparently, the fascination for controlling a phone with touchless hand gestures lives on.

Read more