It’s been done in France and elsewhere, but this will apparently be a first for those of us in North America: Starting in early July, LaGuardia, Newark and JFK airports will put “computerized, hologram-like avatars” to work in an effort to beef up the Port Authority’s customer care program during the busy summer traveling season.
According to a press release from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey:
To expand on the program, the Port Authority created an innovative pilot plan that will feature virtual customer care representatives. This is the first time this technology will be used at an airport in North America, and the computerized, hologram-like avatars will provide automated, basic information to travelers in LaGuardia’s Central Terminal Building, Newark Liberty’s Terminal B and JFK’s Terminal 5 when they are installed in early July.
And how much does innovation that provides “automated, basic information to travelers” cost nowadays? According to the Associated Press, each unit commands a price of around $250,000. Instead of buying them outright, however, the Port Authority will be “renting them for about $180,000 for six months,” says the AP.
WNYC Radio captured the above video of the avatar and noted in its report that “the avatars are not interactive,” but relayed Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye as saying “he hopes a future iteration of the talking machines will hold conversations with passengers.” WNYC also reports that “a total of five avatars” will be installed among the three airports; the $180,000 rental price from the AP’s report presumably covers all five avatars (at $36,000 a pop).
And though the robo-lady in the above video boasts, “I never take a break,” and “don’t charge overtime” (followed by a few borderline-weird quips), WYNC reports that the “life-sized flat screen in the shape of a woman” only “activates when a customer approaches.”