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Port Authority Debuts their Newest Employee, Ava

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Port Authority Debuts their Newest Employee, Ava

July 30, 2012
By Brittany Walters-Bearden
TMCnet Contributor

It is often said that good help doesn’t come cheap. For Port Authority, good help comes at the price of $360,000 per year.

Florida-based aviation marketing company, Airus Media, has developed an avatar that LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark airports believe will attract more people to the customer service counter and will help to ease the busy season of travelling with an “employee” who works around the clock without a lunch or bathroom break. 

Short for Airport Virtual Assistant, Ava is personalized for each airport, designed to answer questions like where the bathrooms are and how to find a taxi. Ava can even be modified in appearance for each airport, changing hair color, outfit and whatever else each airport wants to change about her.

Despite Ava’s human-like qualities, the idea that people will be satisfied with receiving customer service from an avatar that costs several times what a real human would is one that seems unlikely, particularly among the older generation and among those who have complaints.

The changing face of customer service may have some interesting social arguments in regard to employment that will most likely upset people more than outsourcing jobs overseas in a struggling economy. 

At Newark, there is no cause for alarm about employing machines instead of humans, as the addition of Ava coincided with some major hiring. Officials at Newark International Airport have made a $5 million investment in improving the experience for their travelers, hiring 70 human information agents and new full-time bathroom attendants, as well as installing more power stations.

Whether or not people will embrace customer service from an avatar has yet to be seen. The airports plan on renting Ava for a six-month trial period before they determine whether or not to renew a rental contract or buy Ava.

This remarkable technology is another example of how quickly the pace of modern life is changing.

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Edited by Braden Becker
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