UCLA Luskin Conference Center Quarterly Newsletter — January 2017Photo credit: UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services, Marketing & Communications

Not all concierges are created equal!

Standing less than two-feet tall, the UCLA Luskin Conference Center concierge, LARA, greets guests and answers questions as affably as her human colleagues, but with one unique distinction: LARA is a robot (Luskin Automated Robotic Assistant, to be precise). Guests can communicate with LARA vocally and through an iPad attached to her docking station, and she responds to about 30 different prompts, answering questions about the Conference Center and the campus.

The idea to create LARA for use at the Luskin Conference Center was the brainchild of Peter Angelis, Assistant Vice Chancellor for UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services. After hearing about a robot concierge being used at a hotel property in Asia, Mr. Angelis was inspired to see if something similar could be created for the Luskin Conference Center. Through inquiries and research, Angelis ended up partnering with the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) at UCLA to create and implement the automated concierge. LARA is featured in this video clip with Angelis, showing off her ability to perform UCLA’s signature 8-clap.

LARA was developed under the leadership of Dennis Hong, an internationally-renowned mechanical and aerospace engineering professor and founding director of RoMeLa. Hong said that LARA’s artificial intelligence will improve itself through experience. LARA has answers to common questions about the Conference Center and campus, and collects data from interactions, which include booking rooms and recommending eateries for guests. The data will be used to research and refine LARA’s responses.

LARA and Dr. Dennis Hong, founder of RoMeLa
(Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at UCLA)

Photo courtesy of FuturizeX

Capable of using gestures, just as a human might, LARA was developed not only to greet guests and showcase UCLA’s technical ingenuity, but also to help researchers collect data on human-robot interactions. LARA can also communicate with guests through sensors, displays and movement. A camera on LARA recognizes faces and detects when guests are focusing on the robot.

LARA was custom built by Hong’s students in just two weeks. Alexie Pogue, a graduate student at RoMeLa, provided the voice for the petite humanoid robot. Pogue said the RoMeLA team went beyond manipulating motors and software to give the robot a human touch. They tuned the intonation and pronunciation of LARA’s voice to give the robot a cheerful, attentive and intelligent personality.

“What we’re really trying to do is build a persona and integrate real character development into this personality that will ultimately be in the Luskin Center greeting people,” Pogue said.

LARA is the first concierge robot in Southern California.