Autonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 254–276 | Cite as

Tinker: a relational agent museum guide

  • Timothy W. Bickmore
  • Laura M. Pfeifer Vardoulakis
  • Daniel Schulman


A virtual museum guide agent that uses human relationship-building behaviors to engage museum visitors is described. The computer animated agent, named “Tinker”, uses nonverbal conversational behavior, empathy, social dialogue, reciprocal self-disclosure and other relational behavior to establish social bonds with users, and encourage continued interaction and repeated visits. Tinker describes exhibits in the museum, gives directions, and discusses technical aspects of her own implementation. Tinker also recognizes returning visitors through biometric analysis of their hand shapes and dialogue cues. Results from two experiments using Tinker are described. In the first, 29 returning visitors are randomized to interact with the agent with the biometric identification turned on or off. In the second experiment, 1,607 visitors are randomized to interact with versions of Tinker that have relationship-building behavior turned on or off. Results indicate that the use of relational behavior leads to significantly greater engagement by museum visitors, measured by session length, number of sessions, and self-reported attitude, as well as learning gains, as measured by a knowledge test, compared to the same agent that does not use relational behavior. Implications for museum exhibits and intelligent tutoring systems are discussed.


Relational agents Social interfaces Interactive installation  Embodied conversational agent Intelligent virtual agent Pedagogical agent  Intelligent tutoring system 



Thanks to Sepalika Perera, Chaamari Senanayake, and Ishraque Nazmi, who helped develop the original Tinker system, to Dan Noren, Taleen Agulian and the staff at Computer Place at the Boston Museum of Science for their assistance, and to Juan Fernandez for maintaining Tinker over the last three years. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CAREER IIS- 0545932. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy W. Bickmore
    • 1
  • Laura M. Pfeifer Vardoulakis
    • 1
  • Daniel Schulman
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Computer and Information ScienceNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA

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