Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: CES 2017: The Big Trends for Business

CES 2017: Carnival uses wearables, machine learning to make cruises more fun

Delivering the keynote on Day 1 of CES, Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald demonstrated how AI is showing up everywhere.

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Carnival will give its cruise ship guests the Ocean Medallion so they can access their personalized cruise experience.

Carnival Cruise line is betting that a whole host of intelligent, connected services for guests will turn the cruise experience from a "supposedly fun thing" to a truly personal and compelling vacation.

"Our sole purpose is... to make our guests happy, to transport them," Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald said at CES 2017 in Las Vegas Thursday.

Donald's speech -- the first keynote address on the first official day of the 50th annual CES -- illustrated how technology has become an integral part of just about every industry, with much of it powered by machine learning.

The cruise line is partnering with Accenture to deliver a range of new guest services, including an IoT network, a digital "experience" portal and even a new wearable. The services have been dubbed OCEAN -- the One Cruise Experience Access Network.

Carnival guests are introduced to OCEAN with their Ocean Medallion, a wearable they'll receive in the mail ahead of their trip. The medallion enables guests to take actions like making reservations or ordering a drink from anywhere on the ship. It eliminates the need for IDs, credit cards or cruise cards on the ship, and it triggers actions on the ship, such as personalized interactions with crew members.

It's "all about guest centricity," Donald explained. "Every decision we make arises from our guest."

The medallion relies on two primary communication tools: standard BLE and standard NFC. However, Carnival has reversed how these technologies are typically used, explained Carnival SVP Michael Jungen: Normally BLE beacons are stationary and the readers are mobile, but Carnival's readers are mostly stationary while the beacons are mobile.

Accenture is helping Carnival power the platform with streaming analytics, contextual awareness and machine learning, as well as a new capability they're calling "Experience Genomics" to enable Carnival to anticipate guest preferences. With the platform, not only will crew members be able to personalize their interactions with guests, but guests will also benefit from a "digital concierge" that learns their preferences.

"It's not big data analytics," Carnival Chief Experience and Innovation Officer John Padgett said with respect to the Ocean Concierge. "Analytics only helps the next guy. With the Medallion, the more you engage in your vacation journey, the better it is."

The new platform will debut in late 2017 on Carnival's Regal Princess ship and will be rolled out to the Royal Princess and Caribbean Princess ships in 2018. The rest of the Princess Cruises fleet will be equipped with the platform in the years after that.

Carnival is one of several major companies that don't fit into the list of traditional CES guests. The beauty brand L'Oreal now exhibits at the show, as does insurance firm Liberty Mutual. With more than 3,800 exhibitors and attendees from 150 countries at CES, it's easy to find examples of machine learning touching a variety of experiences.

AI has been infused everywhere -- from cruise ships to washing machines.

"We're at an inflection point where because of perceived value and [the fact that] costs have come down," Shawn DuBravac, chief economist for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), said earlier in the week. "The ability to infuse AI into small things at a relatively small cost is present."

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