Two things are certainties at the start of a new year: drunken renditions of “Auld Lang Syne” and another iteration of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The former doesn’t usually have anything to do with travel; the latter most definitely does.
Every year, a handful of companies exhibiting at the show unveil whiz-bang gadgets and gizmos designed to make life easier and more efficient. This year, five such high-tech travel items caught our attention.
Without question, number one on this list is the Ocean Medallion, an electronic charm from Carnival Corp., that passengers can carry aboard cruise ships to personalize the experience. The charm, which is the size of a silver dollar, will launch on the Regal Princess in November and will enable passengers to pay for food and drinks, open room doors, find fellow family members on the ship, and more.
According to an article in the New York Times, the tokens will also connect to a new shipwide gambling platform and will empower guests to order food to be delivered to them wherever they are.
Passengers can keep the medallion in a pocket or wear it as a charm.
Similar technology currently is in use—in bracelet form—at rival cruise line Royal Caribbean, where WOW Bands act almost exclusively as room keys and wireless payment devices. The Walt Disney World Resort, in Florida, also offers wristbands as room keys, wireless payment devices, and park tickets.
Still, what sets the Carnival tokens apart is the breadth and scope of the personalization available. An article on CNET explained that the system is based on proximity sensors, noting that each ship to offer the tokens must be outfitted with up to 7,000 sensors and a cloud network combined with artificial intelligence software that’s constantly gathering and processing data about each passenger.
Skeptics say the data-gathering part of the new system may intrude upon passenger privacy. For starters, the system knows the whereabouts of every token-toting passenger at all times. What’s more, at least at this point in the development process, Carnival plans to retain individual passenger data following each cruise so it can offer repeat customers their favorite wine again when they return. (The CNET story suggests that Carnival also may use the data for targeted advertising.)
Other travel-related CES technologies that made a splash:
—Mymanu CLIK earbuds from a company named Mymanu. These tiny Kickstarter-funded earpieces automatically translate 37 different languages in virtually real time (with a five-second delay) and would be perfect for traveling in a foreign country where you don’t speak the native tongue.
—The 2-TB DataTraveler Ultimate Generation Terabyte, which is being billed as the highest-capacity USB flash drive on the planet. This drive, which has a shock-resistant zinc-alloy metal casing, can carry hundreds of thousands of pictures and video files. If you travel for long periods of time and want to secure your data, this is a great bet.
—Wair, an antipollution scarf from French startup Clausette, boasts a pollution sensor and a small filter that removes bacteria, pollen, and pollution with ultra-fine particles less than less than 0.1 microns in size. The scarf is perfect for travelers visiting cities with smog problems. Through an app, the scarf’s technology also suggests travel routes to avoid overly polluted areas.
—Finally, because we’re photo geeks, we loved reading about the Polaroid Pop, a 2017 spin on the iconic Polaroid camera. The device, which boasts a 20-megapixel camera and a 3.97-inch LCD touchscreen, can print pictures in real time like a traditional Polaroid and also can save them digitally.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.