San Diego State University led by management information systems professor Aaron Elkins has developed a robot dubbed AVATAR (Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real Time). Elkins explains that AVATAR can detect the slightest change in a person’s physical behavior that reveals they are lying or otherwise being deceptive (2).
According to SDSU’s NewsCenter writer, Suzanne Finch, AVATAR’s purpose is to serve as a lie-detector for security areas, such as airports and borders. Don’t expect a human-shaped robot though. This robot is a kiosk complete with screen and is currently being tested in Canada through the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). People traveling into Canada are interviewed by AVATAR in an effort to ferret out anyone entering under false pretenses.
How AVATAR Works
The AVATAR kiosk is similar to self-checkout kiosks in grocery stores and ones found at airports for checking in.
Unlike these kiosks, AVATAR has an animated face that shows up on the screen to ask the traveler questions. The robot can detect the subtlest of changes in the physiology of the traveler when answering those questions.
For example, the computer registers any changes in the traveler’s eyes, posture, voice and gestures. It then computes whether or not these changes indicate the person’s response(s) as being honest or deceptive. In fact, Elkins stated, “It can even tell when you’re curling your toes.”
The software has eye-detection capabilities along with motion and pressure sensors. These work in unison to register those “tell-tale physiological signs of lying or discomfort”.
Step Up to the Kiosk
When travelers arrive, they are asked to step up onto the kiosk mat. This contains pressure sensors that are sensitive to motion. Standing in front of the screen, the animated face asks the traveler a series of questions.
The first questions are mundane and harmless. These serve to generate a baseline that weeds out simple nervousness from intentional deception.
Some of the electronic features of the kiosk include: (3)
- Camera used to register pupil dilation and glance location
- Microphone detects voice changes in pitch.
- ID card reader alerts AVATAR to language needed.
- Fingerprint scanner automatically searches police records for criminal history.
- RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) automatically reads passport in pocket or handbag.
Once a baseline has been established, the questions change and become more direct and specific. Some of these questions that AVATAR might ask travelers include:
- “Do you have fruits or vegetables in your luggage?”
- “Are you carrying any weapons with you?”
If AVATAR detects the traveler isn’t being honest, the person would be flagged for security agents to continue further questioning.
Other Applications for AVATAR
Airport and border security aren’t the uses for AVATAR. The technology could easily become a valuable tool for other agencies. Elkins was quoted explaining how AVATAR could be adapted for “law enforcement, job interviews and other human resources applications.”
The possibilities of using AVATAR in other industries continue to increase. Elkins explained that his team is constantly making improvements. They analyze “the collected data using Big Data analysis techniques that make AVATAR a potentially valuable tool” for many industries.
AVATAR has a track record for use in airports and border crossing stations, according to Elkins. He told SDSU NewsCenter that AVATAR is ready to be put to use. He envisions AVATAR being able 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.”
Even though AVATAR has been tested in airports and at borders, Elkins told SDSU NewsCenter that his current goal is to find a government agency to use his technology for “a real-world application”
Lie Detecting Robots
It’s possible that in the future, security will rely upon lie detecting robots. There may be many industries that could benefit from AVATAR. It’s feasible that in the near future, answering robot kiosk questions is common place in airports, border crossing stations and even the workplace.
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