Freaky Info-Spewing Avatars Coming To NYC Area Airports

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(New York, NY - WNYC) The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is beefing up customer service at area airports — and getting some James Cameron-style help in the form of avatars.

The avatar is a life-sized flat screen in the shape of a woman who activates when a customer approaches. In a perky, smirky, sexy voice, she dispenses flight information and tips about airport services like the location of shuttle buses, rest rooms and taxis. She gives the same spiel to every customer.

Human version of an airport customer service rep on left, avatar on right. (Photo by Jim O'Grady / WNYC)

Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye unveiled one of the computerized avatars at a press conference at LaGuardia Airport Monday morning. He said the machines are meant to supplement the airport's 350 flesh-and-blood customer representatives, who will soon be joined by 70 new hires.

A total of five avatars are scheduled for installation at LaGuardia, JFK and Liberty Newark airports in early July. Unlike most humans, they won't be interactive. But Foye said he hopes a future iteration of the talking machines will hold conversations with passengers.

That didn't stop the demonstration avatar from extolling her advantages over human employees: "I never take a break, don't charge overtime, hardly ever take sick leave and I don't need a background check." Later, she smiled suggestively and said, "I just about anything you want me to be."

(In the video above that's PA Chief Pat Foye, with white beard and glasses, in the background around the 35-second mark.)

The Authority also unveiled new airport apps and dozens of information kiosks and electronic device charging stations to help travelers.