Virtual airport attendants planned

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 17:28 18/07/2014

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Airport check-in kiosks and bag drops could soon be staffed by computerised avatars that will respond to travellers' moods as they complete pre-flight formalities.

Auckland airport technology company BCS has signed a contract with Auckland University spinoff Limbic, headed by two-time Academy Award winner Mark Sagar, to develop the virtual ground attendants.

BCS services manager Marc Michel said the avatars would work in conjunction with cameras that would be able to interpret travellers' moods.

If passengers appeared grumpy, the avatars could respond by being "businesslike" and if presented with a happy holidaymaker they might be more "chatty", he said.

BCS supplies software to Air New Zealand, but the avatars might debut elsewhere. It also supplies hardware and software used at Brisbane and Melbourne airports and Michel said it had "a number of interested clients".

Air New Zealand spokeswoman Kelly Kilgour said the airline was always interested in technology that enhanced the customer experience, but had no current plans to implement BCS' avatars.

"One of the benefits of introducing our check-in kiosks has been the ability to bring our customer-facing staff out from behind their desks to engage more with our customers," she said.

Michel said BCS was spending part of a $2.4 million grant from Callaghan Innovation on the initiative. It would "bring a level of personal and human experience to an automated transaction".

"There has been some resistance in the industry around self-service and this really closes up that last remaining gap," Michel said.

He did not believe the sound of avatars talking at kiosks would be an issue. They would not initially be capable of speech recognition so passengers would still be pressing buttons, he said.


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- Fairfax Media

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