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Executive Perspective JAPAN Watson Build series Worldwide

Watson Build feature: How T.D.I. incorporated AI into its Smart Zoo app to help zoos survive

T.D.I. Co, LTD was the 2017 Watson Build Japan Geography Champion. The solution that secured the win for T.D.I. is called “Smart Zoo,” and it creates special memories for visitors by providing new experiences and enriching customer journeys before, during and after visiting a zoo. Smart Zoo is unique in that users can chat with the animals that Watson recognizes in their photos, and learn about the animals naturally from these direct conversations.

Too often, kids today find zoos boring. They walk around aimlessly with their parents, who typically can’t answer questions about the animals. And today’s kids—digital natives that they are—can quickly tire of the one-way, noninteractive communication model of reading placards.

The animal lovers at Japan-based Technological Development of Information-processing Co. (T.D.I.) were dismayed at the decline in popularity of zoos and saw an opportunity to use AI to improve the zoo experience. To do so, they developed a smartphone app called “Smart Zoo,” and in the process became our 2017 Watson Build Japan Geography Champion.

I wanted to share some Q&A with Atsuko Miyazaki, IT Consultant for T.D.I., to give you a window into her experience with the Watson Build Challenge, and the role IBM played in supporting the creation of T.D.I.’s Smart Zoo prototype app.

Creating a cognitive-based solution using Watson APIs requires innovative thinking. How did you come up with your solution concept?

Atsuko Miyazaki: We have employees who are very fond of zoos and wanted to enjoy their zoo visits more. So, we thought about how to do that and realized AI could help. Some people think of AI as something to be used only for highly technical applications, but we wanted to apply it to everyday situations. Improving the experience of visiting a zoo, especially for kids, struck us as a particularly good application for AI.

Smart Zoo is unique because it allows users to chat with animals that Watson recognizes from photos taken by the user. Before, during and after a zoo visit, Smart Zoo enriches each visitor’s experience. It provides recommended routes based on a user’s history of actions within the app, and allows kids to have direct conversations with animals they photograph. After a visit, it builds an album of photo memories. T.D.I. hopes the app will bring more visitors to the zoo, increase return visits and stimulate zoo merchandise sales—all with the overall goal of helping zoos increase revenue so they can provide an even better experience.

How did you approach putting your business plan together? Did you leverage your IBM relationships?

We started by doing market research, using information provided by agencies and conducting interviews with zoo staff members to get their opinions about our concept. We also participated in a workshop held at the IBM Japan Makuhari Technical Center. IBM mentors there gave us very useful feedback on making our business plan more realistic, how to increase the appeal of our solution and how we should go to market.

Can you tell us more about the real-world steps that will precede bringing your solution to market?

We’re now focused on implementing the business plan we developed in the Watson Build Challenge, which includes such critical steps as customer target analysis, market research, research on competitive solutions, an application specification review, development timelines, a financial plan review and more. We’re also busy visiting Japanese zoos to set up pilot programs and conduct more on-site interviews with staff members, which is really exciting!

Why is your solution a game-changer? And how do you view expanding the potential market for your solution?

Smart Zoo makes it possible for kids to get answers and learn with Watson, while saving costs for zoos because they don’t have to add staff to answer questions or incur the expense of adding QR codes to all their placards. Smart Zoo also incorporates gaming elements that we think will make kids want to use it over and over. For example, Watson scores animal pictures users take, and users can make collection lists of animals. These elements provide completely new experiences that start with the simple act of taking a picture of a zoo animal.

To expand our market, we’re focused on making it available in other languages, and are thinking of adding English next. We also plan to approach other entertainment venues, like aquariums, museums and amusement parks, where the app would work in a similar way.

What advice would you give to Business Partners who have joined this year’s program and are starting their planning?

To create innovative solutions, we believe it’s important to focus on solving social issues first, like promoting efforts that can help preserve the environment and protect animal species. Participating in Watson Build was a great motivator and very helpful—in our opinion, it helps to think big, even at the early planning stages. We were so pleased and honored to be named the Japan Geography Champion!

In conclusion

Thanks, Atsuko! For those of you who want to learn more about what Atsuko and her team accomplished, here’s a link to T.D.I.’s pitch video from the Watson Build finalist event.

Jacqueline Woods (@jacwoods2020)
Chief Marketing Officer, Global Business Partners, IBM

Jacqueline Woods is Chief Marketing Officer, IBM Global Business Partners. She drives worldwide marketing efforts around IBM’s channel business, with a focus on growing business partner momentum in IBM Cloud and Cognitive technologies.

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