Two computer-generated holograms, or ‘virtual assistants,’ have joined the workforce at London Luton Airport. The unusual couple, dubbed Holly and Graham by their co-workers, were installed inside Luton’s security search area at the end of January 2011.
Holograms, almost as difficult to define, as they are to produce, are 2D projections of light that give the illusion of a 3D object. In other words, Luton’s newest members of staff are short ‘films’ of a real person, produced by recording the way that light scatters from the real-life Holly and Graham, and then replaying the patterns precisely. The concept has been a staple of science fiction shows for decades, featuring in Star Trek, Red Dwarf, and more realistically, in the movie, I Robot.
Described as “absolutely remarkable” by Glyn Jones, managing director at Luton Airport, Holly and Graham were created by Tensator, a company that produces “crowd control and hospitality solutions.” The holographic pair use pre-recorded phrases, such as “place coins, phones, and keys in your hand luggage,” to assist (or terrify) travellers on their journey through the Bedfordshire hub.
Tensator claims that Luton was the first airport in the world to integrate holographic announcers into the regular workforce. However, Manchester Airport has since introduced holographic versions of existing staff members, John Walsh and Julie Capper, and made the same claims regarding their novelty. Manchester’s holograms were created by entertainment firm, Musion, to enable security guards to concentrate on something other than reminding travellers to remove watches and belts.
Whether holograms or other pieces of software will one day replace the lowly human is debatable, but unlikely, as present designs are incapable of interacting with travellers.
Officials at Luton hope to distribute Holly and Graham to other areas of the airport, if the 4-8 week trial is successful.