Made by Japanese firm SoftBank, "Peppers" will allow the visually impaired to experience art through sound at the Washington, DC museum.
One-hundred humanoids were gifted to the Smithsonian American Art Museum last April. No larger than four feet tall, each robot comes with an array of microphones, HD cameras, lasers, sonars and 3D depth sensors to help them read human emotions. Called Peppers, they’re specifically designed to “make people happy.”
Created by the Japanese firm SoftBank, Peppers are slowly creeping up all over the world. HSBC has been using them to welcome people into its flagship branch in New York, and one was invited to Cape Town to a whirlwind tour of Table Top Mountain, where it became the first humanoid to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Now the Smithsonian is using them to help turn some of their most iconic artworks into sound, making them accessible to the visually impaired for the first time.
The museum already provides audio description tours where staff members describe the paintings to guests, but later this Fall, Pepper will go one step further by translating the light from paintings into soundwaves. They were first brought into the gallery last month in an experiment to see if they could read guest’s emotions and pair them with a suitable artwork. The project’s designer Ian McDermott told Fast Company how they’re encouraging the humanoid to explore its own interpretation of the artworks: “Pepper goes through the galleries and remix existing works into a way that they weren’t intended to be absorbed, sonically rather than visually, or open it up to provide accessibility to the visually impaired and give tours that way.”