Step through terminals at Logan International Airport in Boston, Washington DC's Dulles Airport, and soon, any of the three New York City major airports, and you'll be greeted by pleasant, smiling airport representatives. They have names like Paige and Carla, and can provide directions on security procedures in two languages, information on forms of identification for customs-destined international travelers, or other basic facts. And they are not human.
Carla, Paige, and their digital kin are avatars or "virtual assistants"—hologram-like projected images of human representatives being used to take the place of agents who are then freed up to assist passengers with tasks requiring human intervention. While as of yet, these avatars cannot answer questions you ask (they're somewhere between a TV PSA and Siri), according to USA Today, Carla, who currently lives at Logan International, will follow you with her eyes. Informational...and unsettling.
But the kind of attention that Carla and her companions of the uncanny divide garner is exactly what airport personnel need from passengers to get them through the mundane, time-consuming processes of security instructions and customs requirements quickly and efficiently.
"Safety and security is our number one priority, and good security means good customer service," said Ed Freni, Massport's Director of Aviation in a statement to the press. "This new virtual greeter gives us an opportunity to collaborate with the TSA on a more efficient security checkpoint by educating passengers ahead of time on the do's and the don'ts of security screening. Our best asset in making the security screening process move along faster is an informed and prepared customer."
For now these avatars are on a trial or pilot period at all the airports, but if they are proven effective in, at least a couple could be joined by others of their ilk. To see Carla, stop at the Terminal E checkpoint. Paige is currently greeting international passengers before the final customs checkpoint at Dulles International. In New York, avatars will be introduced in late July at LaGuardia's Central Terminal, Newark's Terminal B, and JFK"s Terminal 5.
Photo Credit: Carla courtesy Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport)