Just as the most satisfied hotel guest is one whose needs are anticipated, today’s cruise guest is served by sensor technologies that control temperatures, humidity and even lighting to inspire contentment. Chatbots similar to Amazon Echo or Google Home are also becoming a fixture at sea, while wearable technology that functions as ID, room key and payment portal are now a shipboard reality.
After Covid-19, digital technologies will become even more deeply embedded in daily life at sea, to enable tracking and tracing, Covid-19 passports and even social distancing. Where safety is concerned, the readiness of guests and crew to engage with their own handheld devices will doubtless be used to further enhance ship hygiene, safety and sustainability messaging.
However, with attraction as well as precaution needed to rekindle cruise brand loyalty, YSA Design has also been focusing on the long-term opportunities that digital technologies offer to heighten or create guest experiences. We foresee a “new normal” where mobile apps are used for tasks such as route finding and showing table availability at onboard restaurants, immersive infotainment and art installations enriched by augmented reality.
It is also a future where movement sensors will work in combination with visual technology that goes beyond headsets or goggles to encompass retinal projection. Together, the techniques could create gaming or augmented reality experiences that match or surpass “the real thing”. Gaming and entertainment companies are already driving developments in virtual reality and augmented reality on a global basis, and clients in the hotel and cruise industries are adapting the technology for their ships as it becomes available.
But backing the right digital technologies is a high-stakes business for cruise ship owners, given that they have to design newbuilds at least three years before it enters service. Making the wrong call can be expensive, not only because of the initial costs of installing an unsuccessful attraction, but also because the shipowner will need to adjust or rethink part of the vessel’s interior layout to incorporate a replacement attraction. Consequently, designing chic and classy bar and restaurant interiors without considering cashflow is a luxury that even the most lavish cruise ship cannot afford.
A growing number of YSA Design’s clients are asking for design input on how to optimise services, passenger flows and communication with passengers. They are also seeking ways of bringing entertainment to the guest location and analytics that deliver cost savings and greener solutions.
The need to stay ahead of a fast-changing game has prompted YSA Design to form a collaborative partnership with Ship Planner, a platform developed to help shipowners accommodate future digital solutions into their initial design decision-making processes. Ship Planner provides an analytics-driven methodology for owners to consider the impact digital solutions can have at the ship design stage to assess whether technology will bring measurable benefits and how it can be integrated to best effect.
In one early pilot focusing on shipboard utilities, the core Ship Planner analysis was used to devise intelligent water, air and energy management to show an owner how sensor technology would save 60 litres of water per person per day and $73,000 a year in energy use. The methodology also helped the owner decide that plans to install ionisation equipment should be limited.
With the number of cruise operators using sensors as a key tool in analysing passenger flow, both real-time and accumulated data has value. From the owner’s point of view, data is useful for service provision, as well as for minimising queuing time and optimising revenue-earning time. But there is also considerable value for designers continuously seeking to improve solutions.
Ship Planner modules can also help owners explore the potential in deploying digital solutions to make best use of advanced materials, recycling and revenue planning. We can analyse the historical impact of new technology and trends, find patterns on which technologies and trends succeeded, and what failed and why. Design ideas will need to be flexible enough to adapt during the implementation process because client and technology company ideas are also evolving. We can also infer what future passengers might be expecting five years after the design is set and build flexibility into the ship’s architecture to accommodate more rapid changes in technology and trends. In a complementary development, YSA Design is currently working to integrate digitalised spatial planning techniques used by land-based architects into the Ship Planner platform.
Traditionally, we’d use intuition and experience to boil down our design ideas for ships to a small number of options, for elaboration to the client. But new tools in land-based architecture use artificial intelligence to collect data from everywhere – the sun, wind, rainfall and everything that affects the structure. The platform makes millions of calculations to come up with options that consider things that even experienced architects may overlook.
Armed with the right data, the architect has greater decision-making flexibility when considering layout, surface properties (smart materials), changes to appearance, sensors and technology integration, lighting, orientation and communication.
The point of Ship Planner is not necessarily the technology itself, which in many ways is already there, but on how to commercialise it and make it trustworthy and safe enough for the cruise companies to share the information and recognise the value of doing so. Ultimately, the aim is to create an open marketplace to share between owners, designers and technologists, for their mutual instruction.
Kristian Englund is a senior architect at YSA Design
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