Artificial intelligence, voice assistance, virtual reality and faster mobile internet connections will redefine the travel industry
Several thousand people descended on a wet and dreary Las Vegas as the world’s largest technology showcase opened to the public last week. And this year’s trending topics of CES organised by the Consumer Electronics Association’s were quite obvious – the future of travel lies in voice assistance, mobile technology and artificial intelligence.
“We are progressively building towards the data era of consumer technology,” said the senior director of research for the Consumer Technology Association, Steve Koenig.
“5G, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and smart cities are all heralds of that coming data age. Increasingly every action, every decision, every choice, every interaction has more and more data behind it.”
We took a closer look at how emerging consumer technologies will impact travel in the near future, and which features will most likely dominate.
Artificial intelligence: When smart suitcases search for their lost passengers
“Excuse me. Have you seen a man who’s lost his luggage, about five foot ten, mousy hair?” a smart suitcase asks Cat in the famous sci-fi parody series Red Dwarf.
“I bet they’ve sent him to the wrong bloody airport again!” the suitcase adds.
What used to be a science fiction joke in the 90s is becoming a reality as various smart suitcase startup companies presented their robotic luggage at CES.
Travelmate’s suitcase rolls around the airport on its own while following its owner autonomously. The smart baggage is synced with a phone app, so it knows who to follow. With a combination of cameras, ultrasound and infrared sensors, the suitcase can avoid any obstacles that appear in its way.
Additionally, it responds your voice and hand signals like a trained dog.
90FUN’s smart suitcase has the very same goal, to follow you through an airport like a faithful hound. That’s also why the Chinese developers call it Puppy 1. But in comparison to Travelmate the luggage has self-balancing technology.
— GizmoChina (@GizmoChina) January 9, 2018
“I bet you’ve heard of a lot of ‘we are the first in with a smart suitcase in the world’ but this one is totally different because we self-balance. We use Segway technology inside,” 90FUN Product Manager Clark Wu said.
If stolen or lost the company says you can track it with GPS. Security features include a fingerprint reader and an immobiliser to lock the wheels – in case a thief doesn’t want to pick it up.
The smart suitcase developed by Beijing-based Renaissance Robotics is capable of autonomous following, hands-free control, and precise movement abilities just by registering a simple gesture by the user. Renaissance Robotics hope it will redefine travel – or at least the baggage part of it anyway.
“It can recognize the face and track the person with this vision computing technique. This is our demonstration about today’s real-time computing visions, which can be stored in a mobile phone-sized granular computing device in the suitcase,” said Qi Ou, CEO and founder of Renaissance Robotics.
“With this suitcase, a person can go on a tour while talking on the phone, holding a cup of coffee.”
Ready to ride? Yamaha unveils autonomous and robot-driven motorcycles
There may be a new king of the road – and it’s a robot. MOTOBOT is an autonomous motorcycle-riding bot that can ride standard Yamaha motorcycles at up to 200 kilometres per hour.
It’s currently employed as a research and development rider by the Japanese company to help improve safety and push design and performance limits.
“MOTOBOT, there is a course that’s programmed into it and it understands that it needs to go as quickly as it can around the course, so it understands that,” Yamaha’s Corporate Communication manager Bob Staar told Reuters.
Yamaha also showed off the MOTOROiD – an autonomous proof-of-concept motorcycle. It ‘thinks’ with the use of AI, cameras, sensors and facial recognition technology.
“It’s tremendous robotic technology that Yamaha is working on and it’s important for Yamaha to focus on these two aspects; so MOTOBOT is high speed performance, MOTOROiD is more low speed, handling and understanding of the rider. And MOTOROiD does face recognition and MOTOROiD will come to you when called and move away from you when asked to move away,” Staar added.
With the ability to recognise a person’s face and body movements, Yamaha says the MOTOROiD’s auto-balance system helps it adapt accordingly to improve a rider’s handling, mobility and safety.
Mobile innovation: How 5G will enable the future
The 4G LTE technology in our phones has now become the standard. The majority of mobile phone users in the US, Europe, and Asia utilise the perks of fast mobile internet in their everyday life.
But as development never stops, we can look forward to the implementation of a new generation of data connection – the 5G.
The technology behind the 5G data connection, which is so fast it can download a two-hour movie in less than three seconds, differs from previous mobile solutions in one important aspect.
Third and fourth generation mobile internet relies on data transfer from cellular towers. This forces the waves to travel quite a distance and decreases the speed of the internet. 5G will be linked to access points in buildings and homes in a way that resembles Wi-Fi. Its advantage is short wave travel and a faster connection.
The downside, however, is that the areas with data access will be limited and the installation requires optical fibres.
— Ignacio Contreras (@IgnacioTechie) January 11, 2018
“Early 5G networks will sit alongside existing 4G mobile networks to render a feeling of almost unlimited bandwidth for consumers on their mobile devices,” said CEA’s Koenig. “Maybe that will happen later this year, maybe in 2019, building up to 2020 when we will have the first standalone 5G networks.
“Think about all the disruption we’ve witnessed and experienced in a 4G LTE world, like Lyft, Uber, and Airbnb. Imagine what’s going to be possible in a 5G world. It’s amazing to ruminate on this and ponder the possibilities and new business opportunities that are going to be enabled.”
Hotels, in particular, will profit from the ultrahigh speed connection. Marriot and Hilton already presented their visions of using the 5G to create a concept of connected rooms that will take care of all the needs the guests have.
“Imagine a world where the room knows you, and you know your room,” Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta said. “Imagine a world where you walk in, the TV says, ‘How are you doing, John? Nice to see you,’ and all of your stuff is preloaded and not only preloaded, but the only thing you ever need to touch to control in the room is in the palm of your hand,” he said, referring to a guest’s smartphone.
Voice assistance: Smart speakers beat tablets
The next few years are expected to be the era of the smart speaker. More and more devices with artificial intelligence-powered voice control will help consumers using a single speaker or their phone to search, play music, and book holidays.
In 2018, growth in the smart speaker market is expected to reach 60 per cent while in 2019 it is predicted to be 30 per cent.
“Brands are starting to bring forward their own digital assistants; expect them to start to occupy more vessels,” said Koenig.
“Smart speakers will peak in 2019. Maybe the last iteration of this kind of growth pattern was tablets, and before that was DVD players. [Consumers] expect a congruent experience across use cases.”
CES was more of a display of the tough competition between two giants – Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa.
— CES (@CES) January 10, 2018
“Alexa commands about two-thirds of the US market for smart speakers. Google’s about 25 percent, according to eMarketer. But there’s a chance that those numbers could look very, very different at the end of this year, depending on what consumers prefer,” said Reuters reporter Paresh Dave.
Voice assistant devices will be one of the important part included into the concept of connected rooms of hospitality companies. In few years it might happen that you enter a hotel room that will already know your preferences according to your Amazon or Google account and it will set everything automatically for you.
With the constant emergence of technology, business travellers will profit by being close to their home electronically all the time. But those who want to escape reality for their vacation might face hard times.
Reality virtually everywhere: Augmented reality to redefine customer experience
After years of development, virtual reality devices have finally become… well, reality.
Travel companies now have the opportunity to adjust their services using the concept of augmented reality. It could enable sending directions and other useful information directly to travellers.
“Virtual reality really got its start in the consumer market, if you think of that big hype cycle with Oculus Rift,” Koenig said.
— CES (@CES) January 11, 2018
“That has really turned to new use cases in the commercial and industrial sectors. Get ready for augmented reality to explode onto the consumer scene; this is going to completely redefine and reengineer the consumer experience,” he added.
The capability to adjust services with augmented reality is expected to become the core of the travel business, once the technology is mature enough.