MIS Professor On the Ground Floor of High Tech Border Security

When you engage in international travel, you may find yourself face-to-face with border security that is polite, bilingual and responsive.

That security is also a robot.

The Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real Time (AVATAR) is currently being tested in conjunction with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) to determine if travelers coming into Canada may have undisclosed motives for entering the country.

MIS Border Security Avatar

“AVATAR is a kiosk, much like an airport check-in or grocery store self-checkout kiosk. However, this kiosk has a face on the screen that asks questions of travelers and can detect changes in physiology and behavior during the interview,” said San Diego State management information systems professor, Dr. Aaron Elkins. “The system can detect changes in the eyes, voice, gestures and posture to determine potential risk. It can even tell when you’re curling your toes.”

Elkins began working on AVATAR when he was a Ph.D. student at the University of Arizona as a project to detect deception. The project grew and more sensors were added and more data about the interviewee was collected.

When Elkins became an assistant professor at San Diego State in the fall of 2016, his work on the project moved with him to SDSU. At SDSU, he is in the process in completing construction of his lab where he plans to continue researching and teaching students about artificial intelligence.

“We’ve come to realize that this can be used not just for border security, but also for law enforcement, job interviews and other human resources applications as well,” Elkins said. “We continue to make improvements - such as analyzing the collected data using Big Data analysis techniques – which makes AVATAR a potentially valuable tool across many industries.”

In the meantime, Elkins is looking for a government agency that is willing to utilize the technology in a real-world application.

“AVATAR has been tested in labs, in airports and at border crossing stations,” Elkins noted. “The system is fully ready for implementation to help stem the flow of contraband, thwart fleeing criminals, detect potential terrorists and many other applications in the effort to secure international borders.”