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New Eye Tracking Technology May Soon Replace Border Patrol in Airports

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Biometrics have been hot at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, with everything from brain wave monitoring headbands that train you to de-stress to mobile wallet alternatives activated by touch. But the one innovation that’s caught our eye will literally catch yours, too, when you see it deployed in airports and airlines in the not-so-distant future. Eye trackers zoom in on your visual movement, letting you control things literally by looking around—imagine selecting options on your TV by simply affixing your gaze to them, and you’ve got the right idea.

EyeTech, the leader in eye tracking technology, is bringing them to the travel world in partnership with in-flight entertainment company Thales and the University of Arizona.

On Airplanes: Thales’ prototype uses eye-tracking as a remote control for seatback entertainment in first and business class cabins, letting you select movies or check on your flight status simply by looking around a menu. Partner airlines have yet to be announced but the company, which is already managing content and technology systems for many of the country’s top airlines, is optimistic that we’ll see them aboard planes by 2016.

In Airports: Working with Trusted Traveler, the University of Arizona has launched a project called AVATAR (Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time), which functions as a robotic border and customs patrol agent. The robot asks you questions about the nature of your trip and listens to your answers, formulating tailored follow up replies and tracking your eye movements as you talk. A shifty, nervous gaze might trigger the robot’s attention that you’re hiding something—at which point he’ll flag a human to take care of your investigation. So far, the AVATAR robots have been trialed in Romanian airports and at the U.S./Mexico border, with impressive results. The only slowdown? Finding the funding to scale the project.

Nikki Ekstein is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure. 

Photo courtesy of Nikki Ekstein

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