Those crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Ariz. will soon be greeted by a dark-featured, pompadoured man named Elvis. Normally, he'd say, "If you tell a lie, you know that I'll forgive you." However, not this time; this Elvis isn't so forgiving.
That's because "Elvis" is a lie-detecting virtual border agent, yet another high-tech method the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is rolling out if effort to better secure their southern border.
The system was developed by University of Arizona researchers in conjunction with the CBP. The computer kiosk was nicknamed Elvis for obvious reasons, but it's also known as the Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time (AVATAR).
It screens passengers with three sensors capable of detecting unusual physiological responses to questions that could indicate lying. A microphone monitors voice quality, pitch and frequency. An infrared camera monitors pupil dilation and eye focus. Lastly, a high-definition camera records facial expressions.
"What we're looking for is changes in human physiology," University of Arizona researcher Doug Derrick told CNN. "We've had great success in reliably detecting these anomalies — things that people can't really detect."
"Elvis" is making his debut at the Dennis DeConcini Port — a border checkpoint — in Nogales. The kiosk's trial run is being used as a way to process passengers enrolling in the "Trusted Traveler" program, which allows pre-approved, "low-risk" travelers to be fast-tracked through security.
To be eligible for the program, interested participants must be interviewed and fingerprinted — both tasks that the AVATAR kiosk can perform.
Passengers stand in front of the kiosk and respond to yes/no questions. Answers are monitored and if any unusual physiological responses are detected, passengers are passed along to a human field agent who conducts a more thorough interview.
"People have a hard time detecting small changes in the frequency of the human voice, that a computer is much better at," Derrick said. "People are accurate about 54 percent of the time at detecting deception … We have got our machine as high as 90 percent in the lab."
So far, participating in the interview process is voluntary. However, considering Arizona's aggressive stance on illegal immigration, I wouldn't be surprised if "Elvis" became a marquee mainstay.
Potentially added to that marquee could be military drones. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that surveillance blimps currently being used in Afghanistan and Iraq could be deployed to also patrol the border. The 72-foot, helium-filled blimps would help track drug traffickers and those trying to enter the U.S. illegally.
Credit: University of Arizona