Persephone leads visitors in a Greek cave

Photo: AP

Persephone is a tour guide in Greece, but perhaps not the one people are used to, AP reports. Billed as the world’s first robot tour guide inside a cave, Persephone has been welcoming visitors since mid-July to the Alistrati Cave in northern Greece, 135 km east of Thessaloniki.

The multilingual robot covers the first 150 metersof the part of the cave that is open to the public. In the remaining 750 meters a human guide takes over. The robot can give its part of the tour in 33 languages and interact at a basic level with visitors in three languages. It can also answer 33 questions, but only in Greek.

It was named Persephone because, according to one version of the ancient Greek myth, it was in a nearby plain that Hades, the god of the underworld, abducted Persephone, with the consent of her father Zeus, to take her as his wife.

Persephone, with a white body, black head and two luminous eyes, moves on wheels, guiding visitors to the first three of eight stops along the walkway. She can do two more stops, but her low speed slows down the tour, which is conducted in three languages simultaneously. Persephone’s creators are considering ways to speed her up.

Nikos Kartalis, the scientific director for the Alistrati site, had the idea of creating the robot when he saw one on TV guiding visitors at an art gallery. Seventeen years later, “we got our funds and the robot guide became a reality,” Kartalis told The AP. The robot was built by the National Technology and Research Foundation and cost 118,000 euros.

“We already have a 70% increase in visitors compared to last year since we started using” the robot, says Kartalis. “People are enthusiastic, especially the children, and people who had visited in the past are coming back to see the robot guide.”

The robot moves along a walkway, passing through an ornate landscape of stalactites and stalagmites. These varied formations can reach 15 meters (50 feet) tall and are seen throughout the cave’s nearly 1 kilometer walkway, which is accessible to people with limited mobility.

“This cave is one of the most beautiful, not only in Greece but in Europe, as well,” says Kartalis. “It has stalactites and stalagmites in many shapes and colors, even red.” He said the cave was 3 million years old and was first explored in 1974 by the Hellenic Speleological Society and a team of Austrian speleologists. It opened to visitors in 1998.

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