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Posted On: 29 April 2009 05:48 pm
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:09 pm

Roboceptionist Hala may soon be ready for Arabic challenge

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The research team working on Hala the roboceptionist project at the Carnegie Mellon Qatar is teaming up with a US-based company on a solution that will allow people to type in their requests in Arabic using Latin letters, Senior Systems Scientist Brett Browning told Gulf Times. He was speaking on the sidelines of the annual undergraduate research and project symposium ‘Meeting of the Minds’ held yesterday. “Because people tend to write Arabic the way they speak, it turns out to be much more difficult to have a computer understand typed Arabic input and this similar challenge is being witnessed by search engines such as Google and others,” he said. Browning said the solution could be possible in a number of weeks. However, the receptionist is expected to become operational by end of the year. “What we are trying to do is understand how best people can make use of this research findings because this is really new research and we want it to be up and running,” he added. Hala is the Middle East’s first robot receptionist that will welcome visitors to CMQ’s new building in Education City later this year. The roboceptionist consists of an animated face on an LCD screen mounted on a pan/tilt unit and can respond to queries typed on her keyboard in English and Arabic. It will also be capable of initiating conversations in addition to a perception system which is being developed. However, a voice recognition system is not being added to Hala, so she will not respond to verbal questions. Hala is part of a larger project financed by Qatar National Research Fund’s National Priorities Research Project grant and CMQ. The project is in collaboration with Reid Simmons, professor of research at the Robotics Institute and developer of the original roboceptionist project. Another milestone project at CMQ, the braille tutor also received a boost as the project is being made available to the blind in more languages apart from English, Arabic, French and Chinese. “We are planning to expand to a few more languages based on several requests we received during a conference here recently from countries like Ghana, Indonesia and Zambia and this summer students have even been to Tanzania as well,” said assistant research professor of Robotic Insititute Bernardine Dias. She said her team was planning to build games with animal sounds and spelling for the blind children. “Because we realise that a lot of kids these days enjoy computer games and it is very visual, there are a lot of pictures and images but blind children can’t play those, so we are building animal games and another one called Hang Man – a spelling game as well as a game made up from dominoes, which is a very popular game here,” Dias who is also the founder and director of TechBrigde World said. She added that the game would also incorporating music and multi-media package as well.