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LaGuardia has computer-generated customer-service rep

A holographic avatar named

A holographic avatar named "Marie" greets visitors to LaGuardia Airport's Central Terminal. (Aug. 9, 2012) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Her name is Marie, just like the wife of former New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.

She is on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Marie is the Port Authority's new computer-generated customer service representative at LaGuardia Airport. Her image is projected onto an acrylic screen and she offers 90-second automated messages that give airport users practical information such as where to pick up ground transportation.

Marie's voice is triggered by motion detectors and activates when someone gets within 30 feet of the screen. The avatar is part of the Port Authority's customer service initiative, which has included the hiring of 75 additional customer service representatives for Newark Liberty in Newark, and Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in Queens.

"It's weird," said Sean Bond, 22, of Milwaukee Thursday when he spotted Marie on the arrival level near AirTran at LaGuardia Airport. "We don't have stuff like that in Wisconsin."

Bond, who flew to New York to meet his girlfriend for a Kenny Chesney concert, took in a few seconds of Marie's announcements, and admitted that Marie was growing on him.

"It's helpful," he said.

The avatar, which is the image of an actress in a customer-service worker's uniform, is designed to give basic information that helps get airport users from the terminal to their destination. Marie's announcements aren't detailed, but give enough information to get a person from baggage claim to a taxi, city bus or rental car shuttle, said Ron Marsico, a Port Authority spokesman.

"It's a supplement to real, live people," Marsico said. "It's one facet of customer service."

Thursday, as Marie's voice filled the baggage claim area with instructions such as, "restrooms are to the left," and "take only authorized transportation," Tom DeRoma, 45, of Dutchess County, could only stare.

"I think it's cool," DeRoma said as he waited to meet his daughter. "It's more informative visually, rather than reading a computer screen. It grabs your attention."

DeRoma said he couldn't help noticing the avatar's rosy cheeks and shoulder-length, sandy-blonde hair.

"I'd ask her out," he quipped.

The avatar is popular with children, while parents hang back, gazing with skepticism. The computer-generated image will make some think of science fiction movies such as "Star Wars," which featured a hologram. One avatar named Libby has been installed at Newark Liberty, and one is coming soon to Kennedy. Each avatar costs $60,000, according to the Port Authority.

"It's a little strange," said Michael Hughes, 55, of East Elmhurst, who works at LaGuardia's Hudson News store. "But I'm sure it's helpful for people coming in."Efrain Carrero of the Bronx is one of the real-life customer service workers who are identifiable by their maroon jackets. Carrero, 54, on Thursday helped a person get to the American Airlines terminal by providing detailed directions to Gate A. Carrero said he doesn't think the avatar will make his job obsolete yet because he speaks Spanish and the avatar doesn't.

"But I'm always going to do a better job," Carrero said.

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