The Lie-Detecting Security Kiosk of the Future
May 16, 2018
An SDSU professor is developing a robotic kiosk that could
help detect travelers with sinister intentions.
you engage in international travel, you may one day find
yourself face-to-face with border security that is polite,
bilingual and responsive—and robotic.
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 help border security
agents determine whether travelers coming into Canada may have
undisclosed motives for entering the country.
“AVATAR is a kiosk, much like an airport check-in or grocery
store self-checkout kiosk,” said San Diego State University
management information systems professor Aaron Elkins. “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. 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."
Here’s how it would work: Passengers would step up to the kiosk
and be asked a series of questions such as, “Do you have fruits
or vegetables in your luggage?” or “Are you carrying any weapons
with you?” Eye-detection software and motion and pressure
sensors would monitor the passengers as they answer the
questions, looking for tell-tale physiological signs of lying or
discomfort. The kiosk would also ask a series of innocuous
questions to establish baseline measurements so people are just
nervous about flying, for example, wouldn’t be unduly singled
Once the kiosk detected deception, they would flag those
passengers for further scrutiny from human agents.
Elkins began working on AVATAR when he was a Ph.D. student at
the University of Arizona. As the deception detection project
grew more advanced and more sensors were added, more data about
the interviewee was analyzed.
When Elkins became an assistant professor at SDSU in the fall of
2016, his work moved with him. Here, he is in the process in
completing construction of his lab where he plans to continue
researching and teaching students about artificial intelligence.
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 that make AVATAR a potentially
valuable tool across many industries.”
In the meantime, Elkins is looking for a government agency
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, and detect potential terrorists and many
other applications in the effort to secure international