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The robots are here: Auckland Airport hires first digital employee

The robots are here: Auckland Airport hires first digital employee

Auckland Airport deploys a world-first digital biosecurity officer from Kiwi start-up FaceMe.

Vai is now at work assisting MPI at Auckland Airport

Vai is now at work assisting MPI at Auckland Airport

Auckland Airport has its first digital employee, called Vai, who started work as a virtual biosecurity officer last week.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is trailing Vai - which stands for Virtual Assistant Interface - in the airport’s biosecurity arrivals area to see whether she will become a permanent part of the team.

“The idea is for her to take some of the load off MPI officers during peak times by answering simple biosecurity questions from the public,” said MPI’s detection technology manager Brett Hickman.

Vai can see, hear and answer questions from arriving international visitors.

Vai was built using New Zealand company FaceMe’s digital employee platform, which offers companies customised digital employees. With training, these can offer personalised service using natural language.

FaceMe’s avatar technology uses biometrics to learn human interactions and will interact accordingly to ease the customer’s experience.

“Digital employees also learn from every past interaction to sharpen and perfect their skills,” said FaceMe CEO Danny Tomsett.

Westpac’s $10 million Innovation Fund, a joint programme with the government, supported the development. The fund helps agencies solve problems and uncover new opportunities using smarter and faster approaches.

“Vai is highly conversational and has been trained through every interaction, as well as data available on the website. She embodies the AI experience with human like qualities, including a friendly personality and emotional understanding," said Hickman.

“Nothing can replace real human interaction and relationships but Vai frees up our officers’ time so they can deal with the really important aspects of their role."

Tomsett said over the next ten years, human contact with organisations will be reduced to less than 15 per cent of total interactions.

"On the other hand, meeting consumers’ expectations is far more complex today than ever before; and there’s still huge strategic importance in customer experience and its impact on company culture, revenue growth and churn.

"It’s at the intersection of these two realities that there is a powerful opportunity to innovate."

To date, FaceMe has deployed its avatar experience over mobile, browser, phone and kiosk and has pilot customers across banking, government and telecommunications.


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Tags WestpacrobotsMPIMinistry of primary industriesvirtual assistantVaiautomation avatarsAuckland Airport

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