Tour guides, too, are going artificial. Alex Bainbridge was at work on an interactive tour guide to embed in a driverless car when the pandemic hit. The chief executive of Autoura, which creates and delivers vehicle-based sightseeing experiences, knew that while robotaxis and autonomous vehicles are in the works, they’re not ready for the market yet. But with just a bit of work, his guide, SAHRA (Sightseeing Autonomous Hospitality Robot by Autoura), could be.
Powered by an app, SAHRA speaks 17 languages and asks her clients a number of questions before creating a location-guided tour itinerary. Although she currently only offers food tours, in a handful of cities, including New York, London and Seville; Mr. Bainbridge says a wider range of experiences and options for 25 cities are being developed.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated July 22, 2020
Why do masks work?
- The coronavirus clings to wetness and enters and exits the body through any wet tissue (your mouth, your eyes, the inside of your nose). That’s why people are wearing masks and eyeshields: they’re like an umbrella for your body: They keep your droplets in and other people’s droplets out. But masks only work if you are wearing them properly. The mask should cover your face from the bridge of your nose to under your chin, and should stretch almost to your ears. Be sure there are no gaps — that sort of defeats the purpose, no?
Is the coronavirus airborne?
- The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests. This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants. It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
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Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
- So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
While traditional city tours involve packed hop-on, hop-off buses or a single guide shepherding a large group of strangers from location to location, SAHRA’s tours are physically distanced and tailored to individuals or families. They are designed to be carried out on bicycles, electric scooters or in private cars. SAHRA is part chatbot, part interactive map, and the plan is to eventually embed the tours in autonomous vehicles, which Mr. Bainbridge predicts will be commonplace in the travel market by 2025.
The move toward A.I.-enhanced travel experiences, Mr. Bainbridge said, is an egalitarian one.
“In the future, the definition of luxury will be having a human tour guide,” he said. “We’re not trying to recreate the human, we’re not even providing the same product that humans provide. It’s a different experience, at a completely different price tag, and we’re not disrupting the industry as much as transitioning the industry using technology that already exists.”
Price and privacy
Yet researchers and sociologists say that as more such services enter the market, they have the potential to amplify divisions in society. The Pangea Pass Card costs about $140. Rokid’s temperature-reading glasses, about $7,000. Many people will not be able to take advantage of these tools, said Deborah Raji, a technology fellow at the AI Now Institute at New York University.
“There’s an inherent exclusion by giving some people the power to access these tools over others,” she said.
And then there’s privacy. Pass cards that contain sensitive health data, and glasses that reveal health information are powered by potent technology, and there is the danger that the technology could fall into the wrong hands.