AVATAR kiosks aid Department of Homeland Security

Researchers at the University of Arizona have developed a system to assist the Department of Homeland Security with the detection of deceptive behavior in subjects crossing the border into the United States. The Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time (AVATAR) is a kiosk-based system which uses a number of detection techniques to monitor for and flag a subject for suspicious behavior which can then be further investigated by a trained human agent.

In a border crossing usage scenario, a traveler stands in front of the AVATAR kiosk and answers a number of questions posed by a computer generated face on the screen. Three sensors on the AVATAR kiosk monitor the subject to detect any attempt to give false answers. An infrared camera recording at 250 frames per second monitors eye movement and dilation, looking for dilation or flicker caused by the stress of lying. A microphone in the kiosk analyses vocal data as the subject speaks, looking for telltale changes in pitch which indicate deception. Finally, a high definition camera monitors the subject for inadvertent fidgeting movements which can indicate a subject is not telling the truth. In trials conducted in Poland the system was able to detect deceptive behavior with a 94% success rate.

While the AVATAR is not an infallible “lie detector” or used by DHS in an effort to collect evidence which may later be used against the subject, it is a tool that helps overburdened agents at border crossings. The advantage of a computerized system is that is consistent across all the travelers it interviews whereas a human agent may give preferential treatment to one subject as compared to another. Once the AVATAR system has identified a subject who may have made deceptive statements or has exhibited deceptive behavior during its interrogation, an agent will approach the subject with a heightened sense of alert and be more thorough in their follow up questioning. By allowing agents to focus on travelers that have been flagged by the AVATAR system the entire border crossing process will not only be more efficient but safer as well.






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