Rooms that open to the night sky. Walls you can see through to watch the captain on the bridge. Voice commands so you say “goodnight computer” to close the curtains and turn off the lights in your cabin. Driverless shuttles to take you from the ship to the end of the pier. Free guest-to-guest chat so you can find your kids. And an app that lets you check out and order excursions, open the door to your stateroom, order a drink, and see a map of where you are aboard the largest ships at sea.
While that last is the currently the most popular use of technology of all, that is about to change as virtual reality, facial recognition, artificial intelligence, high-speed internet and RFID technology forever change the cruise experience.
At Royal Caribbean’s Sea Beyond technology showcase on Wednesday night, the cruise line showed off how using non-proprietary, open source technology will improve the guest experience from the minute they download the app until they take their final steps down the gangway.
Royal Caribbean's Sea Beyond showcase
“We had a lot of reasons for doing this — to get the word out but also to galvanize everyone to understand the complexity of it,” said Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard Fayne. “Technology is something people expect, an existential requirement of every company.”
In today’s busy world, customers are finding that “weekends are not enough,” and the average American’s vacation time has gone from 15.5 to 16.5 days a year — “a tsunami in demographic terms,” Fayne said. Part of the goal of Project Excaliber is to “give you your first day back,” freeing cruisers from standing in line, worrying about their luggage, making dinner reservations, and waiting for a drink.
The highlights of the announcement were:
- The driverless shuttle, which follows a preprogrammed route to carry passengers to their excursion meeting point in air-conditioned comfort. It is in testing now in Miami by RCCL, but the technology is also running on Fremont Street in Las Vegas and at the University of Michigan, said Director of Business Development Chris Pauly, of Navaya Inc., the French company that makes the shuttles.
- Facial recognition plus the RCCL app so you can skip the counter and just walk right onto the ship, then order a drink on your phone and have a waiter bring it over to you.
- RFID so you can carry a digital key in your pocket and not have to even take it out to open the stateroom door; and track your bags and let you know when they are at your stateroom door.
- Guest-to-guest chat so families and groups can communicate via cell phone without having to pay for Internet access.
- X-ray vision so you can see into the bridge or the kitchen and watch how they work.
- Artificial intelligence lets customers who choose this option compare the schedules of every family member and find the dates that make a family vacation possible for everyone.
- Virtual reality vignettes of shore excursions you can watch at home.
- Additional technologies for the bridge, for staffing, and for lowering the carbon footprint.
- When the ship debuts in 2018, all Edge Sky Suites will have a TV screen that pairs with your phone, so you can stream Netflix and control the room from anywhere, plus have voice control of the lights and TV. A button on the control panel will summon housekeeping to make up your room when you are gone.
Guests can order drinks, plan excursions, and more on the new app.
In “continuous beta” with six-week upgrades, the technology will be on 17 percent of the fleet by the end of this year, 50 percent by the end of 2018, and fleetwide by the end of 2019, Fayne said. The app is available now; it has been in beta testing since July and is “in whisper mode” on Allure and Oasis, but anyone can download and play with it. The company also is “tentatively discussing” a similar app for its sister Celebrity brand.
Further down the road, Royal Caribbean is playing with ideas for the “Stateroom of the Future, “bringing the outside in in a way that you can experience and control.” Over the next four years or so, the tech team is experimenting with “ways to make the walls and floor translucent, and use small pieces of video to bring the day at sea into the stateroom.” At the push of a button, in other words, you can open a sort of sunroof on the ceiling that shows sky and stars above you, sunrise or sunset outside the balcony, the ocean beneath your feet like an overwater villa.
It could even be used to show videos of the destination; “instead of Greece starting at the end of the gangway, maybe we can bring Greece inside your cabin.”