The New York City Marathon, conceived and organized by the venerable New York Road Runners (NYRR), has grown from 127 entrants in 1970 to more than 50,000 runners today. Since becoming the year-round Premier Partner of NYRR and Title Sponsor of the race, TCS has looked for ways to leverage technology to make the race experience easier for runners and more fun for fans.
With 50,000-plus runners and many more fans, there are bound to be questions: “Where do I get my number?” to “Where’s the starting area?” to “How do I track a friend?”
To answer these kinds of questions, TCS created a chatbot named “Pacey Miles.” An animated virtual assistant, deployed as an Apple tvOS app, Pacey used natural language processing to understand queriesin the TCS New York City Marathon Expo and Pavilion and provide answers in real-time.
Pacey Miles was informative with a healthy dose of personality, stemming from weeks of development, testing, and refining by the TCS Interactive team. For example, an early version used a synthesized voice. But Pacey felt too artificial to be truly engaging. The solution was to use a voice actor, whose speech was synced with the avatar’s mouth and facial expressions. The result was a dramatic improvement in Pacey Miles’s “realness.”
Another factor contributing to her ability to engage was content strategy: TCS gave Pacey Miles some verbal attitude, complete with an ability to tell bad jokes in a funny way. She also initiated conversations with a game of running-related trivia.
“We’re excited to explore the use of AI and chatbots.”
—Rob Smy, Director of Digital and Social Media, New York Road Runners
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