Innovation

CES 2017: Carnival Corp. unveils new machine-learning technology via a wearable device for cruise passengers

A new IoT wearable device from Carnival incorporates machine learning and data analytics for cruise ship passengers. It will debut on a Princess Cruises ship in November this year.

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At CES 2017, Arnold Donald announced new technology for Carnival.

Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic

In November this year, the revamped Regal Princess will sail off into the sunset with more than just guests on board. Part of the Carnival Corp. fleet of 10 global cruise line brands, the Princess Cruises ship is the first that will offer each passenger an IoT-connected device to wear while cruising the high seas.

The new IoT technology was announced by Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corp., at the opening CES 2017 keynote on Thursday in Las Vegas.

Carnival is calling the device the Ocean Medallion and it will be offered on cruise ships that Carnival will call the Ocean Medallion Class. It is the approximate size of a quarter and weighs 1.8 ounces. The medallion can be pinned to clothing, carried in a pocket, or added to a pendant or wrist strap as an accessory.

The wearable device contains the user's personal identifying information, so that they can open their cabin door without a keycard, similar to how keyless entry works with automobiles. It can also be used to pay for food, drinks and other merchandise on board. It's also a personal tracking device with wayfinding, so that passengers can locate friends and family members around the cruise ship.

SEE: CES 2017: Carnival uses wearables, machine learning to make cruises more fun (ZDNet)

It will also pair with the Ocean Compass, the name for Carnival's proprietary digital portal that can be used online, on smart devices, on kiosks in home ports, on stateroom TVs and interactive surfaces throughout the ship and on devices carried by ship employees. The medallion doesn't require charging and doesn't have an on-off switch or a menu to navigate.

Data analytics will play a big role in how the wearable device will operate. The medallion will learn about a passenger's preferences and offer options, such as daily events and excursions, based on their previous choices. Passengers will receive it at home prior to embarkation so that they're cruise ready when they arrive at port, said John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer for Carnival Corp.

"Personalization begins at home. It's based on a guest genome that evolves multiple times per second. The guest genome evolves in real time, creating experience intelligence. It empowers us to maximize each and every guest's interaction and experience," Padgett said.

It also incorporates machine learning. "When you think about it, you hear machine learning and big data and big data analytics, and we are really taking the next step in that space. I like to say big data only helps the next guy. On vacation we want to make sure a guest's vacation is maximized on that vacation, not some future vacation," he said.

"We are literally running hundreds of algorithms on the edge of what we call experiential computing devices in our overall sensor network aligned to our experiential Internet of Things that is plowing back intelligence and machine learning in real time to optimize and maximize that guest experience instantaneously with the experience itself. It's completely next level in that space," Padgett said.

Guests will be able to opt out if they aren't interested in using the medallion, said Beau Williamson, managing director at Accenture Travel, who consulted with Carnival as a partner in the project.

"The medallion is going to continue to learn preferences over time. It will take direct things that we see a guest is doing but also non-direct things. If you on your Compass has an invitation that's presented to them and they do not look at it, that is a signal that says something about that invitation was not interesting to that guest and we will remember that and we will use that to better personalize invitations in the future," Williamson said.

The medallion and the Ocean Compass work with a network of 4,030 interactive sensors throughout the ship that Carnival is calling the xIOS, or the Experience Innovation Operating System. The sensors were installed while the Regal Princess was updated in dry dock. Since a ship is only allowed to be in dry dock for 10 days every three years, it's a complicated procedure to get everything installed in such a short period. Carnival worked with Nytec to install the hardware on the Regal Princess, said Richard Lerz, CEO of Nytec.

"Nytec engaged with Carnival and Carnival set out to create a whole new experience for their guests. Nytec built the hardware that is the base level in terms of which all that entire experience rests," Lerz explained.

There were quite a few challenges to overcome. "First of all, time was one. Carnival had a really tight deadline. During the development process we already had our marching orders we had to work around to deliver the next phase of the project," Lerz said.

Another challenge was the testing process. "This technology is brand new so we didn't have a lot of time to go through multiple iterations as you normally would," Lerz said.

The end result was the medallion that guests will start receiving in November before they board the Regal Princess.

SEE: CNET's CES 2017 Special Coverage

Michael Jungen, senior vice president of guest experience design and technology for Carnival Corp., said, "When you hold the medallion, you initially notice it's clean and sleek in design. But it's so much more than that. It's the substance behind the form. The medallion is the persistent identifier for each guest. Just like a license plate on your car and it is the component that connects every guest with our experience ecosystem. It's intuitive but not disruptive, personal but not invasive."

The wearable device will be laser-etched with the guest's name, ship and date of sailing and it will be provided to all passengers at no cost. Inside each medallion are multiple communication technologies including Near Field Communication (NFC) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

"We've turned the industry equation upside down. Normally BLE are stationary and NFC are mobile, but this little baby is our beacon and it is mobile and our readers are stationary," Jungen said.

Princess Cruises will add the technology to two more updated ships in 2018, the Royal Princess and Caribbean Princess, said Jan Swarz, group president of Princess Cruises and Carnival Australia.

"Eventually we expect the Ocean Medallion to be launched across the entire fleet. It's all very exciting," Swarz said.

TE2 worked with Carnival Corp. on the project. Scott Sahadi, CEO and founder of TE2, said, "There isn't a day that goes by that another digital innovation isn't hyped about in the tech space. The reality is most of these are experiments. Carnival has built a platform that will scale to 100 ships to over 147 destinations in real time. That's not typical. That takes some serious kung fu."

Security has also been taken seriously with the wearable device, since it contains the user's personal information.

"In a day where we have a focus on corporate security those elements have to be engineered into the DNA at the very outset and not as an afterthought," Donald said.

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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