Airport Avatars: Virtual Assistant Holograms Guiding Passengers

If you're flying out of Boston's Logan International Airport, you may meet Carla.

Source: Massachusetts Port Authority

She's got tips for getting through security, a warm personality, and she speaks two languages. But don't ask her any questions.

Carla is a video-projected virtual assistant who helps passengers at the main security checkpoint in Logan's international terminal know what to take off and toss out before being screened.

"She doesn't replace any staff," says Ed Freni, director of aviation for the Massachusetts Port Authority, or Massport. "We just want to have a more effective way to communicate with our customers. She's an attention-grabber and is much more effective than some of the signs and some of the videos we have."

Boston isn't the only airport to turn to virtual help. Washington Dulles has "Paige," a hologram that made its debut last month to greet and guide arriving international passengers in a summer-long pilot project. New York's three major airports will get their own avatars in July. In a 6-month trial, the holograms can direct passengers to baggage claims and taxis.

At a time passengers can get boarding passes on mobile devices and learn of delays via e-mail, airport officials say a virtual guide makes sense.

"She's another step toward that high-tech experience," Freni says of Carla. "That's why I think it's really catching on."

While Carla isn't technically a hologram, her eyes will follow those of the onlooking passenger, Freni says. She opens her hands when describing what's to be put in a separate tray at security, and cellphones and coins magically appear. Carla speaks English and Spanish, and will eventually speak a third language.

If Carla is well-received, she may take on other tasks or be joined by more video-projected reps who could, for instance, guide travelers to airport shops and restaurants, Freni says. Right now, though, there's no plan to put virtual help such as Carla to work at airport security checkpoints across the country.

"We think it's an interesting concept," says David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration. "However we haven't begun looking at the possibility of using it."