Auckland Airport deploys avatar to answer biosecurity questions

Virtual Assistant Interface (Vai) has been developed by Auckland company FaceMe

Auckland’s International Airport has deployed a remarkably human-like female virtual assistant to answer travellers’ queries about biosecurity matters.

Virtual Assistant Interface (Vai) has been developed by Auckland company FaceMe with support from Westpac’s Innovation Fund.

FaceMe says the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) is trialling Vai in the airport’s biosecurity arrivals area to see whether she will become a permanent feature. “Vai can see, hear and answer arriving international visitors’ questions.”

FaceMe says Vai was built using its platform that offers companies customised digital employees that, with training, can offer personalised service using natural language. Vai "uses biometrics to learn human interactions and will interact accordingly to ease the customer’s experience.”

FaceMe CEO Danny Tomsett, said the company’s digital employees learn from every past interaction to sharpen and perfect their skills.

“Vai is highly conversational and has been trained through every interaction, as well as data available on the website,” he said. “She embodies the AI experience with human like qualities, including a friendly personality and emotional understanding.”

MPI’s detection technology manager, Brett Hickman said Vai had been deployed to take some of the load off MPI officers during peak times by answering simple biosecurity questions from the public.

FaceMe says it believes the global market for AI will grow beyond $47 billion per annum and that, over the next ten years, human contact with organisations will be reduced to less than 15 percent of interactions.

According to Thomsett “digital employees offer an empathetic, human-like interface that provides answers, handles requests, supplies information or simply connects clients to a key person across any and all channels, day or night.”

Another New Zealand company, Soul Machines has had considerable success with its digital customer service avatar, Nadia, announcing deployments by Autodesk, UK bank Natwest, and most recently UK  Daimler.

Comparisons are inevitable. We’d have to say Vai look more convincing. You can see her in action at Auckland Airport here, and pulling faces (demonstration her ability to show human emotions such as disgust and anger) here.

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