Virtual reality assistants at airports get an upgrade: They now listen and talk back

Virtual assistants at Dubai International Airport can now respond to passengers' frequently asked questions. What does the future hold for airport avatars?

virtual assistants

The future’s bright… the future’s a hologram.

From a distance they look like cheesy human cardboard cutouts.

Virtual assistants are appearing inside more airport terminals to offer travellers practical assistance, and they are starting to do more than play back audio messages.

Dubai International Airport has just ‘upgraded’ its avatars to be more responsive. Instead of just spouting a prerecorded message to inform travellers on security and immigration rules, the avatars are now able to engage with individuals and offer dynamic responses.

But before you get too excited, its programming is limited to answering (in English or Arabic) a handful of commonly asked questions from travellers, such as the location of the nearest toilets or departure gate.

The idea of being able to engage with an avatar rather than just listen to it shows the direction in which airports are taking this technology.

In future it’s not unrealistic to expect customer service avatars to be programmed to answer any number of travel-related questions.

Apple’s Siri is already an example of how this kind of technology has evolved.

A distant future

With advances in near field communications (NFC) and other wireless technologies, wouldn’t it be great if airports could go even further and use avatars to transform our travel experience?

Airport avatars that can use NFC to tap into your travel itinerary and detect your arrival at the airport can be achieved with today’s technology.

Imagine a scenario where you’ve just set foot in the airport and an avatar detects your presence through your mobile phone and says: “Good morning, Dave. I see you have arrived at the airport early. Your flight to Orlando is not due to depart for another three hours. There are currently no delays on this flight.”

Back on planet Earth however, airports are using avatars to cut their costs. It’s little wonder as avatars don’t need to be added to the payroll.

This brings us full circle to another argument: will other airport avatars in future be self-aware enough to replace human staff?

I bet an avatar wouldn’t have the answer to that.

What others have said

  1. This is fascinating. I never thought of avatars in this way before. When you see them at airports today they look almost cartoonish and half-hearted. I hope that one day we can see avatars that personlise their message for you, that’s the way forward as you say. Great article Louise!

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