By Diana Lin, Jane Wong and Joshua Png
There was no escaping it.
You must have seen it shared over social media, on newspapers and even the TV news.
That’s right! Mere months since its inception, the IMDA Lab on Wheels Artificial Intelligence (AI)-themed escape bus has been travelling all around our sunny island garnering fans.
Its mission: To showcase and demystify AI at schools and the community, through an escape room concept that immerse participants in an exhilarating and experiential adventure.
The IMDA Lab on Wheels team managed to catch the terrific trio behind it all, and shared with IMpact the secrets of their breakout success.
The masterminds behind the AI Escape Bus idea: (From left) Cavin Chang, Wilson Wan and Anchal Anilkumar Jain.
So much has been going on for the AI Escape Bus Challenge. So tell us, what inspired the concept?
Anchal Anilkumar Jain: Picture this: When you watch movies featuring AI robots, how does the storyline usually go?
The likelihood is that the AI robots become a little hay-wired, turn rebellious and seek world domination! That is where we come in to demystify this big buzzword -- Artificial Intelligence – and help to remove the fear surrounding it.
Cavin Chang: We just want everyone to know that the movies will remain as movies! AI is not going to take over the world.
As a matter of fact, it is actually already an integral part of everyday life!
Take Siri for the iPhone, for instance! Do you know that with your voice, you can get Siri to help you set an alarm, find the fastest route home, and even tell you a joke?
So, why create an Escape Bus Challenge instead of a regular exhibition on AI?
Anchal: We felt that getting students to learn about AI through conventional methods is not as engaging, and lack the experiential aspect. Chances are, it will be too dry and might even be an information overload for them.
Celebrity Romeo Tan taking part in the AI Escape Bus Challenge during the Tech Saturday Upsized 2018 event.
But what if we could turn the learning experience into a really fun and interactive one, such as having them work in teams and race against the clock while going through various activities on board a bus. That was when we had a eureka moment: the “escape room concept!”
Wilson Wan: Up until today, we still find the AI themed escape bus challenge really cool and out of this world, even though we have played through many times over.
When we first heard about the Challenge, we imagined escaping a room or space that is locked. So what makes breaking out of this bus so special?
Cavin: First of all, participants are not trapped in a room but actually go on board a bus.
Who would have thought a roving escape room-themed bus would actually exist? Even though there’s no physical lock, the participants are constantly engaged in the compelling storyline on board, as each team has different tasks to complete concurrently.
And they can do quite a few fun things. The smart lights on the bus even change when commanded to!
Finally, it is a learning experience. By simply completing the stations, the participants will understand several features of AI in order to attain the necessary code words to ultimately escape the bus!
Why was a virtual AI persona chosen as the host for this Challenge?
Cavin: (Laughing) No relation to our boss, but the lead AI, Preston, is a callous boss who uses his minions to carry out certain tasks!
In this challenge, as with most stories, there is a good and a bad character. Hence, this is where Christine, the secondary AI host comes in.
Programmed to be a good AI, Christine secretly provides aid to Preston’s minions (participants) and if not for her, Preston would have the upper hand from the start of the challenge.
Choosing Preston as the host of the Escape Bus Challenge creates an interactive and entertaining experience with AI. We wanted participants to experience what it was like to work with AI that could give you commands.
Cool beans! With that, how did the team decide on the different AI stations on board?
Wilson: When many heads come together, that’s where the magic happens!
It took the team three months of research, discussions, and understanding the latest trends in tech and pop culture before we could lock down the challenges at the various stations. Even as we speak, the team is still constantly thinking of new concepts and refining and looking out for cool AI exhibits to be included on our bus.
Of course, working with the amazing guys from Amazon Web Services was a key collaboration that ensured that our stations could portray the various features of AI that we wanted to show and teach our participants.
Getting the next clue means this team is one step closer to escaping the Challenge.
Behind every great idea, there are bound to be obstacles and challenges. What were some challenges which the team faced?
Anchal: I think the technical complexity of the escape room was a major challenge.
Every single detail on the bus, from the lights to the music, from the process of participants obtaining instructions, to escaping with the code words, it all needed to fall in place nicely to ensure a smooth execution of the challenge.
For example, integrating all the Amazon Alexa devices to the smart lights was a big challenge because of the short time lag that each device took to speak to one another.
And of course, working out how to link all the stations together as part of the storyline, for the participants to have a common goal to work towards, took us a lot of time and energy to get things to fall in place nicely.
What’s next? AI Escape Bus Challenge 2.0?
Wilson: Version Two or not, something is definitely brewing. The team is constantly bringing new and exciting ideas to the table, so stay tuned to the IMDA Lab On Wheels Instagram channel!