Virtual Human Concierge Assists Passengers at Dallas Airport

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A synthetic concierge generated by Soul Machines and IBM Watson has succeeded in helping thousands of passengers over the last few months at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).

Digital Iris has conversed with passengers from information kiosks in Terminal B since June by filtering IBM’s conversational AI and synthetic speech through Soul Machines’ autonomous animation of human facial expressions and body language.

DIGITAL IRIS

Iris offers DFW visitors for updated flight and gate updates, airport shopping and restaurant information, and details on accessibility and other services. The kiosks include a speaker, a camera to detect when someone walks up, and a directional microphone to make sure Digital Iris hears the traveler’s voice. The hands-free vocal conversation at the kiosk creates the illusion of talking to a human airport team member. Soul Machines’ AI powers Iris’ look and animation, including emotional detection, which the company likens to a ‘subconscious AI.’ IBM’s Watson Assistant provides the ‘conscious AI’ as it processes requests and questions, finds answers, and generates the synthetic voice customers hear. DFW and its partners conceived Iris with an eye toward helping infrequent travelers and people who don’t like looking online for information. DFW began a very limited test of Iris last year, with the terminal-wide pilot test beginning this summer. Its success means DFW plans to expand the kiosks to every terminal.

“AI and automation are providing businesses with the capabilities they need to deliver more personalized and seamless customer care experiences while enabling their employees to focus on complex higher value tasks,” IBM general manager for data, AI, and automation Dinesh Nirmal said. “The launch of the Digital Iris solution at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport is a great example of how AI can be applied to set a new standard for travelers and help support airport employees.”

SYNTHETIC SOUL

The airport AI marks another success for Soul Machines, which has been developing virtual humans since 2016. Soul Machines’ synthetic media and AI creations represent companies and brands through real-world kiosks, the web, and now the metaverse. The startup recently debuted a virtual Jack Nicklaus for the golfer’s Nicklaus Companies, combining synthetic speech and visuals with an AI designed to mimic conversations with the real Jack Nicklaus, thanks to a voice model of Nicklaus. Digital versions of celebrities like basketball star Carmelo Anthony, expected later this year, are just one facet of what Soul Machines does. Customer service and branded agents like Iris are key to Soul Machines and its plans, however. For instance, the startup is responsible for Nestle Toll House cookie coach Ruth and New Zealand police department virtual officer Ella.

“In an era when the air travel industry is up against serious logistical challenges, maximizing both efficiency and customer experience is more important than ever,” Soul Machines CEO Greg Cross said. “That’s why the work of DFW to embrace the concept of Digital People and introduce Digital Iris to its travelers is commendable. With core functions powered by Soul Machines, artificial intelligence capabilities being driven from an industry leader, IBM, and guidance and feedback from DFW’s teams, Digital Iris continues to pioneer the autonomous animation revolution. As the airport’s travelers are already discovering, the potential of visual AI is huge and we are only just scratching the surface of what’s possible.”