Oh buoy! Carnival cruises will launch wearable tech on high seas

With its Ocean Medallion, the cruise ship company hopes to make waves in the high-tech realm. We say: aboat time too.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read

Hoist the sails and set course for a new era in cruising -- the giant pleasure crafts of the sea are getting a tech makeover.

During his CES keynote presentation Thursday morning, Carnival CEO Arnold Donald plans to say ahoy to a new wearable tech experience that'll be available on board his company's many cruise ships.

With a name designed to make you feel like that swashbuckling, gold-hungry pirate you've already fantasised about being, the Ocean Medallion, built in conjunction with tech company Nytec, lies at the heart of an overhaul of how Carnival plays host to passengers.

A waterproof module weighing 1.8 ounces, and with a battery life Carnival pegs at more than a month, the Medallion snaps magnetically into accessories that can be worn on the wrist, on a belt, on a pendant around the neck, or wherever the owner chooses.

High seas, high tech.


Carnival mails a Medallion to each passenger ahead of a journey, engraved with the name of the passenger and the cruise. The gadget will be the passenger's room key and will store information to make for a customized cruise experience.

Unlike a couple of years ago, CES is expected to be relatively quiet on the wearables front this time around. But that doesn't mean the wearables ship has sailed. Carnival is following in the footsteps of Disney by trying to show there's a market for single-use wearables in the travel and hospitality industries.

The experiences these companies offer go beyond being able to unlock your door without a key or card. Their gadgets harness thousands of sensors across a set location, gathering data as they go to personalize services and offerings.

If you've ever taken a cruise, you know the paperwork and waiting before boarding can really put a damper on those going-on-vacation feels. The Medallion is designed to streamline the process. It's scanned on arrival and lets staff establish whether a passenger is shipshape and ready to sail or whether additional papers need filling in.

But it's aboard the ship that the wearable comes into its own. Thanks to proximity sensors, a guest can access his room just by grasping the door handle. Inside, customized updates and suggestions appear on 55-inch touch displays that communicate with the device.

Look mum: No keys!


Another example: You could order a drink from a deck chair, and if you relocated before it arrived, your waiter would bring it to you wherever. Similarly, if you ordered a bottle of wine in a restaurant one night and that same bottle of wine was available in another restaurant on another night, your server could suggest it to you. Passengers can also use an Ocean Medallion to pay for items.

To make this all possible, a cruise ship must be kitted out 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. Carnival retains this data following the cruise, so repeat customers can be offered their favorite wine again should they take a follow-up voyage. Carnival may also, perhaps not surprisingly, use the data for targeted advertising.

Carnival is set to introduce the Medallions on its Princess Cruise liners later this year, starting with the Regal Princess. If you're keen to book on, just look for cruises branded with the fancy moniker Medallion Class Ocean Vacations -- that way you know you'll be enjoying a high-tech, high-class voyage on the high seas.

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