Interactive display picks library books based on your mood and the weather

04 October 2017

Feeling down on a rainy afternoon? A new interactive tool could point you to the perfect book to curl up with.

The interactive display uses Microsoft artificial intelligence to recommend books based on a person’s mood, the weather and time of day. You press a button, it takes a photo of you, interprets your facial expression and combines that with information on the weather and time of day to generate a book recommendation.

The inventors, students at the University of Auckland, are piloting the book recommender at the Auckland Central City Library.

Second-year student Jamie McDonald, who’s studying commerce and computer science, remembers sitting around the flat table with co-founder Jason Guan and another friend brainstorming how to harness the latest image software for interactive displays for an entry in app competition Microsoft Imagine Cup. They didn’t win, but persevered, winning $20,000 in software costs from Microsoft in the University’s own Velocity Innovation Challenge.

McDonald, 19, knew the head librarian at Auckland Central City Library, and stopped him on his bike one day to pitch the idea.

The library came on board, but there was one element left to resolve: the button that people press to trigger the photo and recommendation. “This needed to be inviting and capture your imagination – it is where the interaction actually begins.”

Then, in early September, the University’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship opened its new state-of-the-art makerspace for students and staff, the Unleash Space. McDonald got a part-time job there as a creative technologist, and, with the help of students Niki Siasoco and Noel D'Souza, made the button prototype in a three-hour stint. They used a 3D printer to make a mould, inserted a ring of LEDs and soldered it together, and finished the coding.

The library set up the pilot in its own makerspace, connecting it to a selection of books from the basement. “The technology brings a fun and totally unique experience to library visitors and encourages them to explore book collections that they might not have read otherwise,” says Rachael Rivera from Auckland Libraries.

McDonald predicts the Unleash Space will become a hub of ideas coming to fruition. “It’s going to become the beating heart of Auckland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, in terms of the businesses it will foster, the jobs it will create; it shifts the mind-set from being at University to get good grades to delving into the extracurricular activities.”

He’s equally excited about the potential of interactive displays to transform our day to day experience, not just of libraries but of cityscapes, as ads come to life on bus stops and billboards, responding to passersby’s gait, clothes, age or any number of visible traits.

“I’m really looking forward to the day when people can walk down Queen Street and it’s just a playground.”


Nicola Shepheard Media Adviser
Tel: +64 9 923 1515 Mob: +64 27 537 1319