Avatars coming to New York airports to aid fliers


| sLieberman@queenscourier.com |

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Avatars will soon be guiding passengers through New York area airports.

Her name is AVA, and soon she will guide you through New York’s airports. She is a hard worker, requires no breaks, is never sick, and is completely content distributing the same information over and over again for 24 hours, seven days a week.

AVA is an avatar — a 2D video image of a woman on a screen.

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey has recently purchased three prototypes of these avatars, produced by airportONE.com of Airus Media for a six-month trial period. Each one costs $180,000.

This initiative hopes to perfect future air travel and provide a solution to airport traffic. These avatars will be virtual representatives, programmed on a motion-activated loop to give you instructions on where to pick up your bags, where to catch your flight, and how to be fully prepared to efficiently go through security.

L. Patrick Bienvenu, Chief Operations Officer at Airus Media, said that people typically don’t pay attention to regular signs.

“They will pay attention to an avatar because she is so new,” said Bienvenu. “Also, the avatar can provide a consistent and clear message where a human may not.”

Newark Liberty International Airport has already unveiled one of its avatars, while LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International are set to begin their trial run of the virtual assistants in early July.

These additions are part of a bigger movement that the Port Authority has begun to revamp New York City’s airports. This effort includes the $3.6 billion project to turn LaGuardia’s Central Terminal Building, opened in 1964, into a 21st century terminal. The Port Authority will also be increasing its Customer Care Representative force by 20 percent.

“The Port Authority is seeking novel as well as traditional ways to improve customer service,” said Ron Marsico, a Port Authority spokesperson. “The avatars will supplement the ‘human touch.’”

In terms of AVA’s future, “The sky’s the limit,” says Bienvenu, the avatar’s designer.

“In the future AVA will be able to respond to basic questions,” he said. “Think of ‘SIRI,’ the technology is there.”

For now, AVA is motion activated and begins her instructional loop when approached. When no one is directly in front of her she stands in slight motion, “Just so you know she’s alive.”