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Dulles airport hologram is first test for U.S. airport

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

Washington Dulles International Airport has a new greeter to meet international visitors.

Her name is Paige. And she isn't real.

Paige is a life-size, 3-D, surround-sound hologram that welcomes travelers to the airport's international terminal. The first such hologram in a U.S. airport tells travelers how to get through customs, helping people sort out what papers they need and where they need to be in hopes of eliminating the bottlenecks that often develop there, airport officials said.

Paige can't respond to travelers' questions, but an upgraded version of the hologram now in the works will be more interactive, said representatives from Tensator, the company that made Paige.

"It is very, very cool," said Dennis Hazell, the associate executive staff coordinator for the airport who arranged Paige's installation. "It is just kind of another level of providing a customer experience. ... This kind of 3-D image really gives it a personal feel. It actually looks like a real person."

"Virtual assistants" like Paige are already at work in airports in London, Frankfurt, Germany, Edinburgh, Scotland, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Paige is the first airport hologram in the United States, though the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey plans to test holograms in LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International airports in July. The Duane Reade flagship drugstore in New York City has a holographic greeter, as do Walmart stores in the United Kingdom.

"It's a trend," said Ilona Mohacsi, a spokeswoman for Tensator. "The time has come for this technology. Folks are focused on their smartphones, checking email -- they're doing all these things with their heads down, so it's almost necessary to have this next-gen signage."

Paige is on a three-month trial at Dulles while airport administrators gauge her usefulness. If she's a success, officials say, they'll start paying for her and may install others. Tensator and airport officials would not provide price estimates for Paige. Mohacsi said each hologram is custom-priced. But each hologram being installed in New York airports will cost $60,000 to rent and $250,000 to buy, according to media reports.

Hazell envisions holograms helping out at Dulles' security checkpoints or the waiting area for the train that takes travelers to concourses.

"No one really knows what the future holds, but certainly this is a different type of outreach, because it's something unusual," Hazell said. "Judging by the customers' reactions, I think they would call her fascinating, unusual, kind of cool."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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