Robot librarian designed by Aberystwyth University students

The invention might be a ‘world first’ in robotics, says the university

February 26, 2016
Students at Aberystwyth University design librarian robot
Source: Aberystwyth University
Robotics students Pasi William Sachiti (left) and Ariel Ladegaard with a prototype of Hugh, the robot librarian

A walking, talking library robot could soon be lightening – or removing – the human librarian’s load after a prototype was created by robotics students.

“Hugh”, an artificially intelligent library catalogue, will be able to take verbal book requests, work out where the hard copy is and lead students to the relevant bookshelf.

Pasi William Sachiti and Ariel Ladegaard, the robotics students at Aberystwyth University who created Hugh, combined existing robot technology with information from the university’s online library search facility to create their brainchild.

“As many who use mobile apps know, the simpler the app is, the more people are likely to use it,” said Mr Sachiti, who has previously appeared on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den programme.

“We are adopting the same philosophy with Hugh – his job will be to listen to your request, find the book and take you there.”

Calling Hugh a type of “narrowly artificially intelligent robot”, he said that the design could be one of a line of robots that could undertake specific tasks in places such as hospitals, care homes and supermarkets.

But the model would need some perfecting first, according to Mr Ladegaard.

“The next phase is to look at how it moves around without bumping into people and library furniture, how it finds out where the books are, how it interprets voice commands, how it displays the information and what it looks like,” he said.

“And of course, in a quiet environment such as a library, should it have its own voice?”

Elizabeth Kensler, customer services and academic engagement manager for information services at Aberystwyth, said the “world-first” prototype had so far been received well by faculty members.

“The response of staff to the work done by Pasi and Ariel has been fantastic, and we look forward to working with them as they test the prototype over the coming months,” she said.

“It will be fascinating to see how students interact with it, particularly speaking to the robot in what is essentially a quiet area for study.”

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Reader's comments (4)

Well, let's see. Can it search a database? No. Can it recommend a database to an enquirer? No. Can it provide advice to an enquirer? No. Can it provide a list of useful, authoritative and validated resources? No. Can it help an enquirer get a new job, learn a new skill, understand a subject better or indeed do any of the other 101 things that a librarian does? Well, no. So in actual fact *it's not a robot librarian* then is it? Its as close to being a librarian as a shelf stacker is to managing the supermarket. In future less hyperbole and more accurate reporting please.
While I applaud these students' accomplishment, and their desire to work in a library setting, the article's author goes way too far in saying the robot could "remove the human librarian's load." Leading people to a book's location is the least of what real librarians do. University Librarians teach technology, critical thinking, and high-level search skills. Hugh the robot, while very cool, sounds more like a mobile map around the stacks than a librarian. Please don't insult the organic intelligence of dedicated humans who have master's or doctoral degrees. I respectfully suggest to students Sachiti and Ladegaard that they consider calling their creation something such as a "robotic library assistant" rather than a "robotic librarian." And I wish them the best for a bright future!
Looking at the photo, I'd say it was a Raspberry Pibrarian...
It is ridiculous that both the Higher and the University of Aberystwyth regard the robot as a 'librarian'. Any university which does not pay librarians (NOT information technicians, unless they are actively involved in the conservation and updating of electronic records, at least as much as permanent teaching staff or management, has abdicated any pretension to be an institution of Higher Learning, though it may be a great earner, nor least in Dubai.

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