9 On Your Side Border Watch
Elvis, not a hound dog, but can sniff out if border crossers are lying
Customs and Border Protection agents are using a first-of-its-kind avatar to help them screen trusted travelers crossing into the United States
Reporter: Steve Nuñez
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Securing our border has historically meant deploying more agents to front line. But now, Customs and Border Protection agents are using a first-of-its-kind tool to help them screen border crossers. This new tool is often called Elvis. He's an avatar that has eyes and ears like a hound dog and is used to sniff out if someone is not telling the truth or not who they say they are.
9 On Your Side put Elvis to the test. He doesn't look, sound or sing like the real Elvis. But this Avatar is becoming a big hit at the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, Arizona.
Nathan Twyman is one of many doctoral students at the UA's National Center for Border Security and Immigration that helped devise this automated people screening machine.
Nuñez asked Twyman: "A lot of agents would say, hey wait a second, this could replace jobs? What do you say to that?"
"Well, it's definitely not replacing jobs," said Twyman. "It's all about improving their effectiveness in the job that they are given."
Nuñez asked: "So, why should we believe that this machine is helping in border security?"
"That's a great question, and the reason it can help is because there's things that humans can't pick up on for instance delays in response times," answered Twyman.
The avatar is similar to a lie detector test only it also measures voice fluctuation, body language and eye movement.
"It can see how big your pupils are whether they narrow in response to a question," said Twyman.
The UA claims the avatar will accurately detect something unusual in your behavior 100% of the time.
Nuñez asked: "So if I sound nervous then a red flag would go up?"
Twyman answered, "Nervous, maybe uncertainty will show up in your voice or you pause for a really long time."
So, 9 On Your Side Reporter Steve Nuñez challeneged the avatar to test its accuracy. I answered the same series of questions travellers answer before they are allowed to cross into the United States.
Avatar asked : "Please state your full name now?"
Nuñez answered: "Steve Nuñez."
But, after several questions I purposely began to look away, hesitate and pause while giving answers.
Avatar asked: "Do you live at the address you listed on your application?"
I paused and answered, "Yes," with uncertainty even though I was telling the truth.
Still, the avatar accurately measured inconsistencies in my body and eye movement and flagged me to see an agent which is exactly how it's supposed to work in the field.
"And they (agents) can dig a little bit deeper to find out if there's something there relevant or not," said Twyman.
Right now, the avatar is in the testing stages.
The UA tells 9 On Your Side agents use it to pre-screen trusted travelers only. Those are people who have passed extensive background checks.
If the avatar continues to prove successful, the UA hopes the Department of Homeland Security will use them at all ports of entry along the U.S./Mexico border.