A guide to Byzantium – and your host is Lefkos the robot

There are too many people around me. Make room, please. The red iron object, Lefkos by name, on Tuesday guided journalists around the exhibition, Byzantium Through a Robot’s Eyes, on show at the Byzantine Museum. It was one way of presenting the possibilities offered by Tourbot, a research program funded by Technology for the Information Society, whose aim is to develop and promote new methods of visual presentations at cultural institutes. The robot – for that is what it is – will be tried out as a guide in a pilot scheme at the Byzantine Museum until tomorrow, either at the museum’s location at 22 Vassilisis Sofias, or via the Internet at the website address http/, which gives browsers the opportunity to choose exactly what they want to see. Thirty-one pictures spanning three centuries, from the Palaiologou dynasty to the beginning of the 17th century, make up the exhibition for which the program has been set up. It is a panorama of Byzantine and post-Byzantine art, as this developed during the reigns of the later Palaiologi, and was perpetuated and renewed by the great Cretan painters over the ensuing few centuries. The navigation yesterday was of great interest, not only because it was the first time that people have been guided in Greek around a Greek museum in this fashion, as the museum’s curator and mentor, Dimitris Konstantios, said, but because in this way the fields of art and technology are conjoined, and the past and future meet. The robot actually grimaced when it bumped into human obstacles, and its metallic smile went up and down to express pleasure or displeasure. It even possesses a sense of humor. I see a lot of people around me. They must like me… The Tourbot project, based on an international patent conferred in Greece, commenced two years ago with two trial runs, at the Foundation for Greater Hellenism and the Bonn Museum. To carry out the project a cooperative was set up, coordinated by the Institute of Research and Technology, which cooperated with various institutes and organizations such as the universities of Bonn and Freiburg, the company THEON Robot Systems and others. When the system reaches final form at some point in the future, it will become one of the Byzantine Museum’s permanent guides. Until that time arrives, tomorrow is the deadline for the public to meet Lefkos, who will then return to base, its Cretan laboratory. On the same day, the Byzantine Museum is holding a one-day conference on Technology and its Application to Modern Museums of Art, which will discuss the beneficial and adverse effects of development. Perhaps one should seize the opportunity to find out what more awaits us.

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