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Perky avatars bring 'Uncanny Valley' to NYC airports

The Port Authority of New York will be trying out lady-sized video billboards through the end of the year.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Contributing editor Eric Mack covers space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Eric Mack
Quite possibly the only person at LaGuardia you won't be afraid to make eye contact with. Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

A cheery, two-dimensional lady will soon be arriving in New York City area airports to make the agony of modern air travel a little easier -- if she doesn't totally creep you out, that is.

The Port Authority of New York yesterday unveiled new customer service avatars at Newark and La Guardia airports. For now, the quarter-million-dollar units are essentially woman-shaped, motion-activated looping video billboards that dispense the same prerecorded but helpful information about shuttle buses and restrooms to anyone who walks by. Port Authority representatives said they hope future versions of the technology will be more interactive and capable of holding conversations.

The Associated Press reports that the Port Authority is renting the avatars for about $180,000 for six months and will install a handful of them at JFK, La Guardia and Liberty Newark airports this summer.

No word on the linguistic capability of the avatars, but for travelers from Tokyo, there's always the possibility of using this avatar to help the new Port Authority avatars speak Japanese.

You can watch one of the avatars in action below. She comes across as a little bit arrogant in the way she stridently lists her capabilities, but I'm willing to let it go since she never asks anyone to remove their shoes.