Avatars poised to power airline check-in

One of the developers behind special effects technology used in the movie Avatar has inked a deal with airline check-in kiosk manufacturer BCS.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor

"Intelligent, live and highly expressive" avatars are poised to become the new face of airline check-in after developer Limbic IO sealed a deal with check-in kiosk manufacturer BCS last week. 

Dr Mark Sagar of Limbic IO

The partnership with BCS is the first significant commercial deal for Limbic's technology, although the company's website indicates it has also worked with heavyweights such as NEC and digital signage company Wallflower among others.

Limbic, a spin-off from Auckland University's Laboratory for Animate Technologies, is applying "neurobehavioral animation" that combines biologically based models of faces and neural systems to create live, naturally intelligent, and expressive interactive systems.

Company founder Dr Mark Sagar, a double Academy Award-winner for his effects work at Peter Jackson's film studio Weta Digital, last year demonstrated an interactive avatar called Baby X at TEDx in Auckland, New Zealand.

"One of the comments levelled at self-service check in is that it has lost the human touch that people had when checking in at a traditional manned counter," Patrick Teo, BCS CEO says. "Travelling can be stressful and our aim is to make the interaction between human (passenger) and computer (check-in) as natural and helpful as possible."

The avatar developed by Sagar and his team is capable of "reading" peoples' faces and responding to emotion by combining biologically based models of faces and neural systems to create intelligent and expressive interactive systems. It will then offer personalised help and advice during the check-in process.

The collaboration with BCS will see the interactive technology at work in airline automated check-in and bag drop systems assisted by NZ$2.4 million recently awarded to BCS by New Zealand innovation agency Callaghan Innovation.

Marc Michel, BCS general manager of services and solutions, says the company is already in talks with a number of potential customers for the avatar-assisted check-in and bag drop.

BCS, which employs over 400 people, partnered with Air New Zealand in 2007 when the airline first developed its then revolutionary check-in system and the company has now taken the technology global.

Limbic says it is in negotiation with a number of other organisations in a range of sectors from medicine and aged care to security and education.

At Weta digital, Sagar was involved in the creation of technology for digital characters in blockbusters such King Kong, Spiderman 2 and, of course, Avatar.

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