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A digital bio-security officer will help international visitors arriving at Auckland Airport, the largest in New Zealand. The digital bio-security officer is called Vai, which stands for Virtual Assistant Interface.

"The idea is for her to take some of the load off MPI officers during peak times by assisting staff with answering queries," said MPI detection technology manager Brett Hickman. "This is about using technology to allow officers to focus on their important role of keeping pests and diseases out of New Zealand." 

Vai can answer simple bio-security questions such as what items need to be declared for inspection and can provide help with directions around the airport.

MPI started trialing Vai in early February 2018 in the airport's bio-security arrivals area to see whether she will become a permanent staff member. The proof-of-concept trial uses biometric technology to interact with passengers, says Hickman.

"Vai uses a database of queries and answers that is constantly updated through her interactions. The technology behind her human appearance is similar to what is used in the gaming and movie industry,” he said. "MPI is always looking for innovative ways, including emerging technologies, to improve the customer experience for arriving passengers and to increase their bio-security awareness."

Westpac's Innovation Fund has supported the development of Vai. FaceMe, a New Zealand-based company specializing in artificial intelligence, has provided the technology.