These travel spots around the world are showcasing latest technological innovations in Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics
Tired of the same-old trips? Why not take a tech-themed trip and explore some of the latest – and arguably strangest – tech out there? We selected some destinations where technology is the main attraction. And if you have any further ones to add to that list we’d love to hear from you!
Virtual Reality Theme Park
There is a lot of hype around Virtual Reality (VR) and these days anybody can get a taste of the sort of immersive experience that this technology offers by using relatively affordable devices. From the likes of Samsung GearVR which retails at around $100 to Google Cardboard – which was given out for free with promotional campaigns such as those run by the New York Times and The Guardian. Yet to get the full impact of the futuristic potential of VR, some argue that you actually need to travel in the real world, to a place called The Void.
Simply put, the Void is a Holodeck-like theme park that is the ultimate in VR immersive entertainment. Its main location is in Lindon, Utah, but it also recently opened peripheral experiences in Dubai and in New York’s Madame Tussauds (where it put visitors into a Ghostbusters-themed narrative complete with proton guns).
“The best VR uses more than just your eyes,” says Void Founder Curtis Hickman, who was part of the team originally looking to build a theme part called Evermore in Salt Lake City but pivoted to the emerging field of Virtual Reality after the park was eventually put on hiatus.
He believes that fully interactive VR such as they offer will play a big role in the development and growth of the industry going forward. The idea behind it is that in order to be truly taken into this alternative virtual world, you need to engage all your senses, so the experiences at The Void are all finely tuned with effects – such as heat, wind and sounds – to match the visual narrative as you move through a real-life course. A lightweight motion-tracking vest also provides haptic feedback such as vibrations that are triggered when you’re – for example – attacked by a ghost. For those who fancy the idea of fully merging the real and virtual world, that’s pretty hard to beat.
Artificial Intelligence Concierges
Hotels that have historically struggled to keep up with competition from tech-centric competitors such as Airbnb now seem to be striking back on the technology front. As Artificial Intelligence becomes smarter and more pervasive, many hotels are, for example, using AI-powered concierges to enhance their guest experience.
Hilton Worldwide’s AI concierge, Connie (named after company founder Conrad Hilton), was arguably the first true AI-powered concierge bot, powered by IBM Watson and travel database WayBlazer it advised guests of local attractions and interesting sites, fine-tuning its responses based on frequent requests.
In Las Vegas’ Cosmopolitan, their own AI assistant Rose entices guests with a calling card which is handed to them upon check-in which reads, “Know my secrets. Text me,” and “I am the answer to the question that you never asked.” Unlike Connie, however, Rose has a phone number which guests can text at any time, making it a much more flexible service as you don’t need to physically find her.
At the Novotel München Messe, Munich Guests are also welcomed by a virtual concierge. There are impressively large touch screens distributed around the hotel, offering accessible information on local attractions, weather and flight information. Guests can even send a virtual postcard at the tap of a button.
Guests staying at Radisson Blu, meanwhile, can request the assistance of AI chat bot “Edward” by text message. The group stated in a press release that Edward is “designed to deliver exceptional experiences for guests who prefer digital brand interaction”. It can deliver information on local bars and restaurants as well as deal with complaints. For problems and questions it is unable to handle, though, human staff is still on hand to help.
Starwood rolled out two robotic “Botlrs” named A.L.O. in their Cupertino Aloft Hotel back in 2015 and they’ve been a huge hit with the techy crowd ever since. The robotic butlers, built by Savioke, are able to perform tasks in front and back of house, as well as navigate around guests and use elevators using a combination of sensors and WiFi/4G connectivity to communicate with the hotel and elevator software. The bots deliver amenities – such as a toothbrush or extra towels – to guest rooms in lieu of actual humans. When the robot arrives at the room, the guest can enter in a rating on the robot’s touchscreen, or offer a “tip” in the form of a tweet to the hashtag #MeetBotlr.
According Brian McGuinness of Aloft Hotels, using robots frees up staff time so they can create a more personalized experience for guests, adding that there were plans for implementing the bots in other locations if the pilot continued to prove successful.
In Japan, however, you can take that love of robots to the next level by staying at the Henn-na Hotel. Housed in a Netherlands-themed amusement park (why not?) it is staffed entirely by robots. This includes a life-sized velociraptor – which wears a periwinkle bow tie, a bellhop cap, and a neckbeard – used for checking in English-speaking patrons, a process that typically takes only about five minutes, much shorter than average check-in times experienced in human-staffed hotels.
The hotel had 72 rooms and only 10 human staff. Those staff members were present for emergencies, should they arise, and cleaning. In the future, the hotel hopes to replace even these with cleaning robots (there are already robots employed for cleaning carpets in addition to robotic luggage porters and personal assistants). And if anybody can pull that off, it’s probably Japan.