NEWARK, N.J. (The Blaze/AP) — Meet Ava. She’s a new employee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. She smiles, answers questions and can guide you to the nearest restroom or to your connecting flight. Her cost for six months of work? $180,000.
But don’t try to shake her hand. She’ll remain rather stiff. The New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that Ava is a quarter-inch thick piece of plexiglas with the image of a speaking woman projected onto it. She’s an avatar and was recently unveiled at the three major airports in the New York City area — Newark, La Guardia and John F. Kennedy.
These airports will be the first ones in North America to get an avatar this summer.
Watch this demo of the technology:
The avatar is one of the improvements announced that is in response to feedback from travelers for a need for “more human interaction,” according to Newark Liberty Executive Director Patrick Foye, who said the airports will be deploying more “Red Coats” as well. The Star-Ledger point out that Ava is not really human, but she does possess some human-like qualities such as wearing different outfits and speaking in “reassuring tones” about gate information and baggage claim. Here’s more on how the avatar works:
To create the avatar, the videotaped image of a real-life spokesmodel is projected onto the back of the cutout, creating a moving color image in the front.
“I’m not really here, but I do look good, don’t I?” the avatar said.
Like an iPhone in high heels, an interactive version will eventually answer travelers’ questions, officials said. Aside from working without pay or coffee breaks, the avatar boasted of another advantage over human customer service agents: “I don’t need a background check.”
The Port Authority is renting the avatars for a trial period of six months for about $180,000. They cost about $250,000 each. Gizmodo snarkily points out that while Ava herself brags about the fact that she doesn’t need breaks, sick days or a background check, “hiring flesh-and-blood humans would cost half as much and provide the otherwise unemployed with decent jobs.”
Gizmodo also considers the avatar “flirtatious” with “come hither facial expressions” and speculates she was “designed by a dude.”
This story has been updated to correct that Airus Media is based in Tampa, Fla., not Ontario.