The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners voted this week to bring a wayfinding robot called Tracey to the complex for a six- to eight-week pilot program beginning Jan. 18. If it proves to be a satisfactory solution after six weeks, Tracey will stay on as a permanent staff member at the Fillmore Complex, according to County Administrator Alan Vanderberg.
The pilot program will cost $20,000 initially — and if Tracey is purchased, the net cost will total $58,000.
Tracey could solve a daily problem at the County Clerk and Sheriff’s Office building at 12220 Fillmore St. in West Olive, Vanderberg said. The central lobby of the 1998 building is not staffed and visitors don’t always know where to go when they walk in the door.
“One of the gaps we notice every day when walking in the building is people look stunned,” he said. “They look around. We have signage, but they don’t appear to see it.”
The robot is an alternative to hiring two new staff members for a cost of about $82,000 per year, Vanderberg said. The robot will not be collecting a salary.
“We think it will help customers find where they’re going much more efficiently,” he said.
Tracey, a product of Advanced Robotics, will feature voice technology used in Amazon Alexa devices. The feature is the result of a new partnership between the two companies.
The robot will also serve as a kiosk to allow visitors to look up information.
The pilot program and potential purchase will be funded through revenue from leased cellular towers owned by the county, which bring in about $200,000 each year, according to Vanderberg.
Tracey would be the first robot of its kind in a county administration building, he said, but the county has embraced opportunities provided by new technology.
“The commissioners aren’t afraid to say we’re not afraid to be first,” Vanderberg said. “We’re looking to solve a problem, save money and look to the future of artificial intelligence.”