August 6, 2012
People crossing the Mexican border into Nogales, Ariz., this week will have a chance to meet U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s newest officer—a polite yet no-nonsense bilingual gatekeeper with a thick shock of black hair and a striped gray tie. He may not have a name or join his fellow officers for coffee or lunch breaks, but his presence will likely be welcomed both by them and the commuters who regularly pass through this southern Arizona outpost on their way to and from Mexico.
That is because the new recruit is an avatar, a virtual border patrol officer residing in a kiosk developed by researchers at the University of Arizona to facilitate border crossings.
CBP is actually installing an updated version of the University of Arizona’s kiosk—the original was tested at the station from December to March—to determine its ability to help enroll applicants in its Trusted Traveler programs at the Mexican border. The programs, also available for airline passengers, were created after 9/11 at various ports of entry into the U.S. to expedite preapproved, low-risk travelers through dedicated lanes and kiosks. All Trusted Traveler applicants must voluntarily undergo a background check against criminal, law-enforcement, customs, immigration, agriculture and terrorist databases. The process also includes biometric fingerprint checks and an interview with a CBP officer.