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: A new robotic kiosk is assisting Canadian officials in screening travelers trying to enter the country. (Credit: Aaron Elkins)

The next flight you go on you may be peppered with questions from a robot.

The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) is testing out a robotic assistant called the Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real Time (AVATAR) to help border security agents determine whether travelers trying to enter Canada have undisclosed motives for entering the country.

Aaron Elkins, Ph.D., a management information systems professor at San Diego State University, who began working on AVATAR as a Ph.D. student at the University of Arizona, explained what AVATAR is capable of doing.

“AVATAR is a kiosk, much like an airport check-in or grocery store self-checkout kiosk,” Elkins said in a statement. “However, this kiosk has a face on the screen that asks questions of travelers and can detect changes in physiology and behavior during the interview.

“The system can detect changes in the eyes, voice, gestures and posture to determine potential risk. It can even tell when you’re curling your toes,” he added.

The current protocol has passengers stepping up to the AVATAR kiosk and being asked a series of questions including “Do you have fruits or vegetables in your luggage?” and “Are you carrying any weapons with you?”

The passengers are monitored as they answer questions with eye-detection software and motion and pressure sensors to look for tell-tale physiological signs of lying or discomfort.

The kiosk begins by asking a series of innocuous questions to establish a baseline measurement so people who are nervous about flying wouldn’t be unduly singled out.

However, once the AVATAR detects deception, the passenger gets flagged for further scrutiny from human agents.

According to Elkins, there is a number of usages for this kind of technology.

“We’ve come to realize that this can be used not just for border security, but also for law enforcement, job interviews and other human resources applications as well,” Elkins said. “We continue to make improvements such as analyzing the collected data using Big Data analysis techniques that make AVATAR a potentially valuable tool across many industries.

“AVATAR has been tested in labs, in airports and at border crossing stations,” Elkins added. “The system is fully ready for implementation to help stem the flow of contraband, thwart fleeing criminals, and detect potential terrorists and many other applications in the effort to secure international borders.”

 

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