Manchester airport gets virtual security staff

An airport in the U.K. has introduced virtual staff to help passengers prepare for security screening.
Julie Capper, a customer service agent at the Manchester Airport, stands with the helpful virtual assistant that was modelled after her. ((Manchester Airport))

An airport in the U.K. has introduced virtual staff to help passengers prepare for security screening.

The virtual staff members were introduced at the Manchester Airport last week as part of a trial program aimed at shrinking security lines.

The smiling virtual team members are modelled after airport staff members John Walsh and Julie Capper. The digital doubles are designed to greet passengers and explain the latest rules surrounding liquid restrictions before they enter the security area in Terminal 1.

Julie Armstrong, customer service director at the airport, said it had been looking for ways to remind travellers about the liquid rules introduced in 2006.

"We’ve tried lots of different ways to reinforce the liquid rules, from posters to people dressed up as giant deodorant cans," she said in a statement on the airport's website.

She said she was hoping that the virtual versions of Walsh and Capper would prove to be as helpful as their real-life counterparts.

Airport spokesman John Greenway said people seemed to be responding well so far.

"We've seen people presenting passports and boarding cards to them, even talk to them," Greenway said.  "Passengers are also trying to put their hands through them regularly."

Virtual assistants a trial project

The life-like virtual assistants were developed in conjunction with the U.K.-based firm Musion. They are built out of a special material designed to retain maximum transparency and strength, Greenway said.

"The resulting surface betters that of a glass mirror, allowing the reproduction of high-definition video at such high quality that they look real," he said.

The virtual assistants have been provided free because they are part of a trial program, Greenway said.

He said it's too soon to tell if the virtual team members are actually helping reduce security queues. But Greenway added if all goes well, travellers could be seeing more virtual assistants in other areas of the airport.

London's Luton airport has also introduced some new virtual staff members designed by Tensator, a firm that specializes in digital signage and queue management.

The virtual Holly and "Graham were unveiled at the airport on Monday. They, too, are being used to answer questions in the security area.