BREAKING NEWS 'Unfathomable': US death toll from coronavirus hits 200,000 Full Story

Robots invade the Smithsonian museums

Ashley Meadows has a tough job. As the gallery guide coordinator at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, she tries ...

Posted: May 1, 2018 12:55 PM
Updated: May 1, 2018 12:55 PM

Ashley Meadows has a tough job. As the gallery guide coordinator at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, she tries to get people to talk about modern and contemporary art.

Consider the look of panic on people's faces when they're urged to express an opinion about a Jackson Pollock painting.

"It's hard to start a conversation with a stranger," Meadows, 33, said.

But these days she has an ally in her efforts: a small humanoid robot named Pepper.

The human-shaped robot stands four feet tall on one tapered leg, a shiny white body and big puppy dog-like eyes.

Tucked into the curves of the Smithsonian's brutalist modern art temple, Meadows watches Pepper entertain guests. It dips at the waist, plays music and offers to take selfies -- the most popular of Pepper's tricks.

Related: Robot co-workers? 7 cool technologies changing the way we work

This particular Pepper is one of a 25 strong army of robots at The Hirshhorn Museum and three other Smithsonians in the city, including The African Museum of Art, the African American Museum of History and Culture and the Smithsonian Castle.

The robots made their debut this week.

Pepper was donated by its manufacturer, the Japanese company Softbank Robotics.

Pepper, first unveiled in 2014 in Japan, can be programmed for different use cases, whether it's at restaurant chain Pizza Hut, airports or now museums.

But Pepper has limited functionality. It won't go off script but can tell guests a story, give them more information about a piece of art or "do something fun," like play music and dance with guests.

Rachel Goslins, Smithsonian's director for the Arts and Industries Building, hopes Pepper's presence will encourage people to be more engaged as they walk through the galleries.

Related: Self-driving cars. Scooters. The future of commuting is here

"I'm the mother of the robots," Goslins said.

She decides which museums they're stationed at and and what they do. They're typically positioned in spots where she hopes for increased traffic or for people to linger longer.

"They're attracted to the robots like a magnet," Golsins said of its success so far.

Pepper has already doubled foot traffic to a frequently missed section of the Museum of African American History and Culture -- the second floor educational gallery.

But Pepper isn't perfect. Some visitors complained the robot couldn't speak or understand any language besides English. Others repeatedly asked Pepper questions it couldn't answer.

Each Pepper robot has bodyguards to make sure the system is properly functioning, its software is updated to protect against hacking and that people don't harm the machines themselves.

After entertaining visitors for most of the morning, Meadows powered down Pepper for a rest. The robot's eyes went dark and its white form slumped over like a puppet released from its strings.

"Say bye, Pepper!" said Meadows, wheeling the robot off the floor.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 790096

Reported Deaths: 15056
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2614466366
Riverside574191162
San Bernardino52649908
Orange522011128
San Diego44925760
Kern31509354
Fresno27769355
Sacramento21628383
Alameda20641374
Santa Clara20511297
San Joaquin19841415
Stanislaus16351337
Contra Costa15958201
Tulare15599256
Ventura12406143
Imperial11583314
San Francisco1080799
San Mateo9598143
Monterey955067
Santa Barbara8880110
Merced8750134
Kings743077
Sonoma7112114
Marin6591112
Solano617555
Madera439162
Placer348841
San Luis Obispo339327
Butte276435
Yolo275454
Santa Cruz22188
Sutter164210
Napa162613
San Benito131011
Yuba11187
El Dorado10734
Mendocino85118
Lassen7350
Shasta70914
Glenn5503
Nevada5116
Colusa5106
Tehama5094
Lake49210
Humboldt4856
Calaveras31114
Amador28616
Tuolumne2214
Inyo18714
Mono1652
Siskiyou1610
Del Norte1361
Mariposa752
Plumas490
Modoc240
Trinity150
Sierra60
Alpine20
Unassigned00
Chico
Scattered Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 72°
Oroville
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 72°
Paradise
Scattered Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 72°
Chester
Clear
62° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 62°
Red Bluff
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 71°
Willows
Scattered Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 72°
Air quality is looking a bit better this morning, and we'll be staying warm for your first afternoon of the fall season. We'll be a little cooler and have a chance for some showers on Thursday. Dry and hotter conditions return for your weekend.
KHSL Severe
KHSL Radar
KHSL Temperatures

Community Events