ALISTRATI, Greece – Persephone is a tour guide in Greece, but maybe not the type people are used to.
Presented as the world’s first robot-guide inside a cave, Persephone has been welcoming visitors since mid-July in the Alistrati cave, in northern Greece, 135 km north-east of Greece. city of Thessaloniki.
The multilingual robot covers the first 500 feet or so of the part of the cave open to the public. In the remaining 2,400 feet, a human guide takes over.
The robot was named Persephone because, according to one version of the ancient Greek myth, it was in a nearby plain that Pluto – the god of the underworld who was also known as Hades – kidnapped Persephone, with the consent of her father Zeus, to take her for a wife.
The robot can give its part of the tour in 33 languages and interact at a basic level with visitors in three languages. He can also answer 33 questions, but only in Greek.
Nikos Kartalis, the scientific director of the Alistrati site, had the idea to create the robot when he saw one on television guiding visitors to an art gallery. Seventeen years later, “we got our funds and the robot guide became a reality,” Kartalis told The Associated Press.
The robot was built by the National Technology and Research Foundation and cost $ 139,000.
“We already have a 70% increase in the number of visitors compared to last year since we started using the robot,” explains Kartalis. “People are enthusiastic, especially the children, and people who have visited in the past are coming back to see the robot guide. “
“It’s something new for them, to have the possibility of interacting with their robot by asking it questions and the robot answering them,” he said. “Many foreign visitors couldn’t believe Greece had the ability to build a robot and use it as a guide in the cave.”
The robot moves along a walkway, crossing a landscape adorned with stalactites and stalagmites. These varied formations can reach 50 feet tall and are visible throughout the cave’s nearly 1.6-mile walkway, accessible to people with reduced mobility.
“This cave is one of the most beautiful, not only in Greece but also in Europe,” says Kartalis. “It has stalactites and stalagmites in many shapes and colors, even red.”
He said the cave was 3 million years old and was first explored in 1974 by the Hellenic Society of Speleology and a team of Austrian speleologists. It opened its doors to visitors in 1998.
Persephone, with a white body, black head and two luminous eyes, moves on wheels, guiding visitors to the first three of the eight stops along the catwalk. It can make two more stops, but its low speed slows down the tour, which takes place in three languages simultaneously. The creators of Persephone are considering ways to speed it up.
The robot begins by saying: “My name is Persephone, I am the daughter of the goddess Demeter and the wife of Pluto, the god of the underworld. I welcome you to my under-terrestrial realm, the Alistrati cave.
Many visitors are intrigued by the robot guide.
“It was surprising to me. I have never experienced such a thing. Actually, I honestly prefer a live guide, but it’s interesting to do it that way. And I like the rhythm of the robot. It goes slower so I can look around, ”said Patrick Markes, a Czech visitor.
Markes listened to the first three robοt stops in his native language and the rest in English from a human guide.
“I should thank Persephone, our robot, she said some very nice things,” said Christos Tenis, a visitor from Greece. “I am impressed with the cave. Of course we had a flawless (human) guide, she explained a lot. I’m very impressed.”
Persephone is not the only technology used inside the cave. There is a mobile phone application in which a visitor, by scanning a QR code, can see the Alistrati Beroni. It’s a microorganism that can only be found in this cave, in the huge mounds of bat droppings left behind when the cave was opened and the bats migrated elsewhere.
Evdokia Karafera is one of the tour guides who partner with the robot.
“It’s useful because he speaks several languages. There is just a bit of a delay in the tour, ”she said. “Most find him fascinating, especially children, and find it interesting that he speaks many languages.”
Karafera insisted, however, that human tour guides cannot be completely replaced.
“Robots, at some point in the future, will have a lot of jobs. But I believe they can’t replace humans everywhere, ”she said. “(Visitors say) ‘the robot is interesting, original, but cannot replace the human contact with the guide and the conversation we may have on the way home.'”