Edge of Innovation

Smart Ships Take to the Seas

The cruise ship industry rides the tech tide to entice young, tech-savvy vacationers to set sail on smart ships.

Just like missing the exit on a road trip, it’s easy to get lost on a cruise ship. With 19 decks filled with cabins, restaurants and attractions, the MSC Meraviglia is the length of almost three football fields. It can feel like a small city and vacationers can feel like they need GPS or Google Maps just to get around.

That’s where the ship’s 4,000-plus sensors come in. Using their own device or by waving a smart wristband at 144 strategically placed digital screens throughout the ship, passengers can see where they are and where they want to go, complete with a route.

High-tech cruise ships attract younger travelers who prefer to spend money on experiences instead of material goods. These tech-savvy cruisers don’t necessarily want to disconnect from their devices while at sea.

From checking the MSC for Me app for the day’s activities to looking at one of the digital screens to scope out restaurant menus or book a table, passengers can now experience what Luca Pronzati, MSC Cruises’ chief business innovation officer, calls a huge paradigm shift in the cruise industry.

Cruise ship in harbor
The MSC Meraviglia offers an app for navigating the 19 decks on the 1,000-foot long cruise ship. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises.

“It is a game changer,” said Pronzati. “[Guests can] retrieve information and book any service from any area of ship at any time.”

Seaworthy Tech Features

Carnival announced plans to debut shipboard technology later this year on their Princess line while others, like Royal Caribbean, provide wristbands that allow passengers to unlock stateroom doors or pay for on-board purchases.

Swiss line MSC Cruises built Meraviglia to help travelers make the most of their vacation time. For anyone who’s ever been hopelessly disoriented on a ship, the MSC for Me app makes navigating a cruise ship a breeze.

Queues at the excursion desk should become a thing of the past as cruisers scroll through options on their cabin television or with a tablet-bearing crew member and sign up on the spot.

Parents can even geolocate their wristband-wearing children among the more than 5,700 passengers.

“My son does not have any sort of device,” said Luca Biondolillo, MSC Cruises’ chief communications officer. But using the app, Biondolillo can quickly find his young son whether the boy may be playing in the Lego room or swimming in one of the ship’s four pools.

For those visitors who might not have a tablet or smartphone, Biondolillo said “they will still be able to benefit because the technology is available in the cabin through the old-fashioned TV.”

The wristband also opens cabin doors and allows passengers to pay for on-board purchases. Passenger-friendly extras include a quick-find tool for restrooms and elevators.

MSC Meraviglia
The galleria ceiling on the MSC Meraviglia is covered by the largest LED dome at sea. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises.

Other tech features on Meraviglia include an amusement area with virtual reality (VR) Formula 1 race car simulators, a 4D cinema and a promenade ceiling covered by the largest LED dome at sea, projecting an ever-changing digital sky.

Not Just Your Grandpa’s Cruise

While the stereotypical cruiser may be retirees and grandparents, younger people are taking to the sea, rating cruising as a better vacation type than land-based vacations, all-inclusive resorts, tours, vacation house rentals or camping, according to research from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Nearly 39 percent believe ocean cruises are the best type of vacation.

Boat to the Future

While the technology launched with the christening of the Meraviglia is already beyond typical on-board experiences, “this is only the starting point,” Pronzati said.

“We will be able to further evolve toward a more personalized experience powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide information to each guest relevant to where they are and what time of day it is,” said Pronzati.

Facial recognition technology is in the works so when a crew member encounters a passenger they can address them by name and have their interests and more at their fingertips.

smart ships
An increasing number of younger tech-savvy travelers are drawn to smart ships. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises.

This AI tech will also help crew speak to passengers in their language. More than 180 nationalities travel on board MSC Cruises each year. MSC for Me is currently available in six languages, with Chinese coming next.

VR is in the pipeline too, centered on the shore excursion experience. Time in port is limited, Pronzati said. “It’s often spent rushing around and visiting monuments without a lot of quality time.”

Through VR before and after the excursion, passengers can deep dive into a destination, learning more about the places they visit. This can help them appreciate the sights more, said Pronzati.

After all, appreciating new experiences is what it’s all about.

 

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