• July 10, 2012
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

NY Area Airports Pilot Speech to Speed Travelers Along

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The three major New York–area airports (John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark-Liberty) this month will begin testing AVA, an airport virtual assistant created by AirportOne.com, a division of Airus Media of Tampa, Fla., as the next generation in way-finding, public guidance, and advertising.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will place three AVA prototypes in passenger terminals as part of a six-month trial of the technology. The avatars have been programmed to answer some of the most frequently asked questions by the more than 106 million travelers who pass through the three airports each year. AVA can provide directions to nearby gates, taxi stands, rest rooms, car rental counters, and bus stops, general airport safety information, tips for getting through the airport, and advertisements for stores nearby. Scripts are customized for each airport and terminal.

The avatars will be housed in interactive kiosks at LaGuardia's Central Terminal, Newark-Liberty's Terminal B, and JFK's Terminal 5 and will sport the same red jackets worn by the more than 350 customer care representatives who roam the airports to help travelers.

The AVA kiosks are part of a much wider-ranging customer service improvement plan by the Port Authority; other parts of the plan include the addition of 70 customer care agents, a new smartphone application, expanded efforts to curtail taxi hustling, cleaner rest rooms, expanded food courts, and the installation of more power poles so travelers can charge their electronic devices.

The avatar trial is said to be costing the Port Authority $180,000. Should it be successful, the Port Authority would likely purchase the units, which cost about $250,000 apiece.

If that happens, the Port Authority could install more advanced virtual assistants that can respond to questions, support several languages, and ultimately provide information as complex as gates and flight times.

According to Patrick Bienvenu, chief operations officer at AirportOne.com and creator of AVA, the models that are being piloted in New York run through a preprogrammed script, but the more advanced models could be outfitted with greater interactivity, including touch screens and speech recognition.

"The sky is the limit with what AVA can do and say," Bienvenu says. "The technology exists to do just about any level of voice recognition."

Among other uses, Bienvenu says the virtual assistant could be placed in the security screening area to instruct passengers about current procedures and regulations.

Airus Media also makes avatars, virtual assistants, virtual mannequins, and virtual presenters for use in other venues, such as stadiums, convention centers, train stations, subways, shopping centers, retail stores, and museums. AVA is the only one specifically designed for airports.

Bienvenu says Airus Media is negotiating with several other airport operators to roll out the technology at other airports throughout the United States.

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