Billed as the world's first "smart ship," Royal Caribbean's brand new Quantum of the Seas tucks cutting-edge technology into every nook, from bow to stern. Crave's Michael Franco went aboard with other members of the media for a two-night cruise out of New York.
The most visible tech toy on the ship is to be found at the Bionic Bar. Here, after ordering your drink via tablet, a
pair of robotic arms swivel into action, getting booze from overhead bottles
and mixers from dispensers built into the wall. Once the ingredients are in
place, the bots are capable of either shaking, stirring, muddling or straining
the drinks. When that's done, they pour them into a cup, which comes toward
you on a conveyor belt. Then the robots bring their silver shakers back to the
wall to clean them and get busy making the next drink in the queue, which
is displayed on a mirrored screen to the left and right of the bar.
The bar was built by Makr Shakr, a company launched earlier
this year that aims to bring robotics to the cocktail scene. It took them
41,600 man hours to build and test the robotic bartenders whose movements were
patterned after Roberto Bolle, a dancer with the American Ballet theater. The
bots can make two drinks per minute using 30 different spirits and 21 total
mixers. Patrons are able to choose from premixed cocktails or create their own
Why yes, that is a giant red bear hanging out on the
side of the ship. While some aboard joked that the bear was placed there to
balance out the weight of the ship after it was built, it's actually just a
piece of art called "From Afar" designed by artist Lawrence Argent.
But why a bear? Crew member Kirk Anthony Burgess told me jokingly,
"Because we're Royal Caribbean and we can." He also told me the
crew has chosen the name Phylicia for the big mascot, which is made out of
stainless steel, stands 30 feet tall and weighs a whopping 80 tons.
At the rear of the ship is a unique space called Two70°,
which gets its name from the 270-degree panoramic windows that stretch through
nearly three decks in height. During the day, the space is set up something
like a living room where guests can lounge and relax. By night, screens come
down over the windows that transform into massive 12K video screens that
form the backdrop for a show called "Starwater."
And yes, that is a man hanging in the air playing a cello.
The theater also has a number of secret doors in the floor and ceiling through
which actors, acrobats and one high-flying musician arrive and depart.
This shot of the 12K screens really shows off their clarity
and capability. Eighteen projectors create the images that appear
on the screens, which form a surface 100 feet wide and more than 20 feet tall.
Hanging above the stage are six robotic screens that
participate in the show. I got the impression the creators of the show
were unsure just what to do with the roboscreens, so they only have a
small supporting role. I hope that changes and they get a lot more involved in
future performances, because it's just plain cool to see a set of huge video
screens swooping and swirling all around a stage full of actors and dancers.
"These are the first power robots ever on the high
seas," said the designer and "trainer" of the screens, Andy
Robot, who I bumped into after the show. Robot's company, Robotic Arts has made
Roboscreens for clients including Bon Jovi, Activision and Deadmau5.
North Star is a glass-enclosed pod attached to a mechanical
arm that lifts guests up and over the side of the ship to a total height of 303
feet above sea level to give them a view of the ship and its surroundings. It
rotates 250 degrees and the rides last 15 minutes. Rides will be free to all
guests, but premium packages will be available for sunrise and sunset trips.
On the upper floor of a two-story gaming complex known as the Seaplex is a dedicated Xbox room
with multiple gaming consoles, comfy couches and screens embedded into the
wall. The ship's Wi-Fi connectivity means you can game with your
less fortunate landlubbing friends while aboard.
Yup, that's me floating on a column of air on top of the
cruise ship. Quantum has Royal Caribbean's usual offerings of a rock-climbing
wall and endless wave surfing, but it also has something brand new at sea --
Ripcord by iFly, a skydiving simulator.
After a brief instructional session, we donned our flight
suits, helmets, earplugs and goggles and were led up to a glass-enclosed
capsule on the very top of the ship. There, we waited our turn for a one-minute
ride in another tube where a blast of air roared up from below. The air is
produced by two 400-horsepower propellers to create speeds from 120 to 160 mph.
It's something of an engineering marvel because the noise from the engines had
to be dampened to not travel anywhere else in the ship, the large curved glass
sides of the tube had to be designed in such a way to accommodate the movement
of the ship, and -- oh yeah -- it lets people fly on top of a cruise ship!
To start the minute-long experience (which was plenty) you
step to the edge of the tube and then fall forward (disconcerting to say the
least), but then like magic, you're floating in midair. Of course you have to
do your part and focus on staying in a superman-like position with legs bent.
I found that it required a surprising amount of balance to not lean to one side
or the other and, when I did, I was rewarded by falling flat on my back to the
netting below. Still, it was one heck of a ride and I'd do it again in
heartbeat. It was like getting off that amusement park ride that you want to
immediately get back in line for.
The Quantum of the Seas is full of engaging art, some
of which comes "alive" thanks to video screens. This installation by
Los Angeles-based artist Brian Bress consists of three pieces called "Hunter 2,"
"Farmer 2" and "Captain." They feature colorless cartoon characters who scribble on the
screens from inside.
"Dreamride," another piece of art that incorporates a video component, features a big plastic car mounted to the wall with a screen filling the
driver's window. The driver goes through a range of movements throughout the
day against an animated background, eventually nodding off behind the wheel.
The work was created by American artist Peter Sarkisian.
"In Sarkisian's artworks, sculpture begins where images end and vice
versa," reads the description of the piece. "By joining physical and
virtual elements in this way, the normally passive act of watching television
is transformed into a more engaging experience."
Not all the art aboard Quantum is interactive or fueled by video
screens. This installation outside two of the ship's 19 restaurants
consists of shiny red balls suspended by monofilaments. It's not super techy, but
it definitely adds to the futuristic decor.
This is the control deck in the bridge wing, an area on the left side of the bridge, "where all the fun is taking place," Captain Srecko Ban said.
It might look small, but it has absolutely
everything a captain needs to operate the entire ship. The bridge wing is used
when the ship is docking or pulling out of port because it provides a view to
both the front and rear of the ship as well as straight down through a glass
panel in the floor.
The two larger joysticks on this panel control the ship's azipod motors. Pushing them produces thrust and turning them steers the ship.
The two motors are capable of producing 23 knots of speed, equivalent to about 26.5 mph. The smaller handle just visible in the lower right controls four
thrusters, propellers that help move the ship sideways. The handles can all be synchronized
to move as one, or they can be controlled individually.
This is the ship's control room, where all technical
components of the ship are managed. Again, I was struck by the small size.
Here we heard about many of the ship's environmentally
friendly technologies. One of the most fascinating is the ship's air
lubrication system. "Quantum is the first ship with a total air
lubrication system," said Richard Pruitt, vice president of safety and environmental stewardship. "What that is, is that we're
injecting high-pressure air in the front of the ship and it creates
micro-bubbles that create a layer under the ship. What that does is reduce the
friction between the hull and the water." Captain Ban told us that the
system allows the ship to gain a half knot in speed which makes it work less
hard to go faster, improving fuel efficiency.
Pruitt also detailed the ship's use of a heat reclamation
process that uses the heat thrown off by generators to boil seawater, which is
then passed through a filtration system to create the ship's drinking water as
well as hot water for laundry. The ship can make over 2,500 tons of potable
water per day using this system. The heat is also used to warm up the ship's
fuel, which needs to be thinned before it's used.
To clean gray and black water, Pruitt says the ship uses a
system of bioreactors, filters and ultraviolet light to disinfect it before
discharging the practically clean water out at sea.
Nicholas Rose, environmental regulatory lead for the ship, detailed many
of the trash-handling measures aboard the Quantum of the Seas, which, he said,
produces zero landfill waste. Glass, as seen here, is the largest source of
trash on the ship and it's ground into small particles, then put in 1,500-pound
bags. Plastic is baled and cans are crushed, and all of these materials are
given to recycling facilities on land. Cooking oil is captured and given to a
biofuel producer back on shore. Trash that can be incinerated is, and the ash
is collected and given to concretemaking facilities on dry land. Food waste is
collected through high-volume vacuums in the galleys, dried and incinerated or
"ground up into a very fine powder that goes into the sea and becomes fish
food," Rose said.
Rose also demonstrated the
ship's "bulb eater," a machine that deals with dead fluorescent bulbs
by crushing the glass casing and sucking up the mercury that's released. That
mercury is then returned to bulb manufacturers for use in new fluorescent
The exercise equipment in the gym also gets the tech
treatment on Quantum of the Seas. Treadmills, stair steppers and other cardio
machines all have a Wi-Fi-connected screen attached that let you access
services like Facebook or Flipboard while sweating off all that yummy cruise ship food.
Every passenger on the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship gets a "WOWband" in his or her
stateroom upon check-in. The band is implanted with an RFID chip that lets you
into your room even though you'll still need your key card to get the
electricity working. It is also supposed to let you check in at various
"Smart Concierge" tablets around the ship that let you check your
reservations for restaurants and shows. Despite several attempts, I couldn't
get this feature working, although I did see others tapping away at the
tablets, so I assume the problem was eventually solved.
Of the 2,090 staterooms aboard Quantum of the Seas, 375
feature "virtual balconies." These are basically 80-inch
Sharp Aquos TVs mounted on the walls that display a video feed from cameras
mounted outside. A graphic of a railing in front of the feed helps create the
balcony illusion, which, I have to admit, was quite good. The screen is turned
on and off by a remote control or it can be left on and the curtains closed if
you want that "virtual sunrise" feeling in the morning.
The desks in the staterooms are a good size -- and a thoughtful
touch being that you might want to bring along your laptop to take advantage of
the ship's fast Wi-Fi. The desks also feature two USB charging ports, two
outlets for grounded US-style plugs and a universal outlet for overseas plugs.
Quantum of the Seas will sail out of Bayonne, N.J., and make trips
through the Caribbean until May 2015. After that, it will be relocated