No, it's not the Comic figure of Starwars robot "R2D2". It's TOURBOT, a European Union-promoted research project, with which the Universities of Bonn, Freiburg and Heraklion with different museums co-operate. The goal of this project is the development of an interactive TOUr-guide RoBOT (TOURBOT) able to provide individual access to museums' exhibits and cultural heritage over the Internet. TOURBOT operates as the user's avatar in a museum by accepting commands over the Web that direct it to move in its workspace and visit specific exhibits.

TOURBOT was developed in the context of a project promoted by the European Union in Greek-German Zusammarbeit. The TOURBOT project is conducted by a consortium that comprises of an ideal blend of technical partners (Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas, Greece; University of Bonn, Germany; THEON Mobile Platforms, Greece; University of Freiburg, Germany), brokers of technology to museums (Foundation of the Hellenic World, Greece), and end users (Foundation of the Hellenic World; Deutsches Museum Bonn, Germany; Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens, Greece).
The scientific partners of the project are Professor Dr. Panos Trahanias, institutes of computer Science, Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas, project manager, Professor Dr. Wolfram castle pool of broadcasting corporations, Institut for computer science, working group autonomous one intelligent systems (University of Freiburg) and Professor Dr. Armin B. Cremers, Institut for computer science (University of Bonn).

In order to realize the TOURBOT system, the consortium will develop a multimedia Web interface that will allow people to interact with the tour-guide system over the Internet. Furthermore, TOURBOT will have an on-board interface for interaction with on-site visitors of the museum. Using the Web interface, people all over the world will be able to tele-control the robot and to specify target positions for the TOURBOT system. Camera controls will be used to choose the part of the exhibition the user wants to inspect in more detail. The robotic tour-guide will possess a multimedia information base providing a variety of information about the exhibition at various levels of detail. Thus, the TOURBOT system will serve as an interactive and remotely controllable tour-guide, which provides personalized access to exhibits with a large amount of additional information. The user enjoys a personalized tele-presence to the museum, being able to choose the exhibits to visit, as well as the preferred viewing conditions (point of view, distance to the exhibit, resolution, etc). At the same time, TOURBOT is able to guide on-site museum visitors providing either group or personalized tours.

Although the Internet is a fast evolving technology that electronically connects distant sites, untill now electronic networks serve mainly to exchange and acquire information. In some cases this information is pictorial, often gathered by means of images taken in “real time” with a stationary Web-camera. In order to take full advantage of the Internet, it would be desirable to get real physical interaction with the remote site being visited. Robots, and especially mobile platforms, can extend the Internet towards an interactive platform that allows actions to be carried out and dynamic information to be exchanged between distant sites. The TOURBOT project implements exactly the above concept for the particular case of museums as remote sites.

To make the TOURBOT system possible, a multimedia Web interface allows people to interact with the tour-guide system over the Internet. Furthermore, an on-board interface facilitates interaction with on-site visitors of the museum. Using the Web interface, people all over the world are able to tele-control the robot and to specify target positions for the TOURBOT system. The robotic tour-guide possesses a multimedia information base providing a wide range of information about the exhibition at various levels of detail. Thus, the TOURBOT system serves as an interactive and remotely controllable tour-guide, which provides personalised access to exhibits with a large amount of additional information.
A tele-operated tour-guide robot requires a high degree of autonomy since it operates in a populated environment in which humans are also present. Therefore, the project included the development of a safe and reliable navigation system for TOURBOT. The robotic avatar is equipped with a series of state-of-the-art sensors that allow it to acquire information about its environment. The navigation system uses this sensory information to adapt the robot’s internal model of the environment and to plan the robot actions.

TOURBOT commenced January 2000 and ended successfully February 2002. The goal set forth in this project was the development of alternative ways of achieving interactive museum tele-presence, employing the novel approach of site viewing through the ‘eyes’ of robotic avatars. This was accomplished and demonstrated in relevant events in real museum environments.

Tourbot has achieved its RTD goals and has undertaken demonstration trials in the premises of the participating museums. More specifically, the TOURBOT system has been developed and fully tested in laboratory environment. Following that, and in order to acquire performance data from actual museum visitors, the system has been installed and demonstrated in the three museums of the Tourbot consortium. These demonstrations were combined with relevant events in order to publicise and disseminate the results of the project to professionals and the broader public.

Foundation of the Hellenic World, Athens. Exhibition: “Crossia, Chitones, Doulamades, Velades - 4000 Years of Hellenic Costume”
Deutsches Museum Bonn, Bonn, Germany. Exhibition: “Part of the permanent exhibition, highlighting scientific achievements that were awarded the Nobel Prize”
Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, Greece. Exhibition: “Byzantium through the eyes of a robot”