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How Carnival’s small, wearable Medallion crafts a cruise just for you

When Carnival’s newest ship, the Vista, launched last year, it was not only company’s largest cruise ships in the world (accommodating 4,000 passengers), but it boasted amenities that included a golf course, IMAX theater, sporting facility, brewery, water park, and multiple restaurants – features commonly associated with land-based resorts. But that’s what modern cruise ships are: floating resorts that offer more than what anyone could want. And that’s the problem that they’re hoping Internet of Things (IoT) tech will solve.

“The cruise model for years has been bigger and bigger ships, and more and more ships,” John Padgett, Carnival Corporation’s chief experience and innovation officer, told Digital Trends. “When you have more and more people, you have more complexity. The guests have a paradox of choice: There’s more than they can dream of doing. So, it’s not about getting more things to do, it’s getting the right things for you to do. But more importantly, for you to know what those things are.”

“What we’re bringing is the most extensive experiential IoT that’s ever been done.”

And it’s that challenge – elevating the guest experience by helping its customers find the right ship amenities that interest them – that Padgett and Michael Jungen, Carnival’s vice president for design and technology, set out to overcome with an “experiential IoT” platform that revolves around the Ocean Medallion, a quarter-sized wearable that’s designed to “maximize the guest experience,” Padgett said.

The Ocean Medallion was unveiled at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, where Carnival CEO Arnold Donald also kicked off the annual tech convention. Set to sail on the Regal Princess from Carnival’s Princess Cruises brand, in November 2017, Carnival said the technology, which incorporates Bluetooth, Near-Field Communication (NFC), sensors, and other proprietary equipment, will not only let it offer personalized service, but also set itself apart from the competition.

The Ocean Medallion

With the Ocean Medallion, “What we’re bringing to the cruise industry and ships is the next-level guest experience – that’s our focus,” Padgett said. “I like to call it the most extensive experiential Internet of Things that’s ever been done. It stages every single experience: food and beverage, merchandise retail, entertainment, lodging, recreation, and excursions.

“[And] it’s actually evolving in real-time, multiple times per second,” Padgett added. “Because we believe if you maximize someone’s experience by making those experiences personalized and eliminating the hassle frustration, it is better for [the guest].”

The 1.8-ounce disc, which is made of burnished aluminum and is laser-etched with the guest’s name and ship name, has no discernible technology. There’s no on-off switch, no recharge needed, and no menu to navigate. It’s been designed like a fashion accessory that can be worn on a wristband, as a pendant or necklace or simply placed in a pocket or purse.

The Medallion seamlessly syncs with an invisible, integrated system that recognizes individual guests as they pass by and helps anticipate their needs. It facilitates experiences for guests based on location, cruise history, and personal information they provide.

Inside the Medallion are two microscopic antennas – one utilizing NFC and one for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). A network of readers and sensors across the ship interact with the Medallion create a unified “genome” for each guest that seamlessly knows preferences and interests based on information provided and activities, and recommends unique opportunities and access to distinct experiences.

More: Carnival’s new at-sea Wi-Fi network is finally faster than your shuffleboard game

During a recent drydock in Palermo, Italy, the Regal Princess was outfitted with 72 miles of cable, 7,000 sensors, 650 readers and more than 4,000 interactive portals to enable the Medallion experience. The Caribbean Princess and Royal Princess vessels will undergo similar drydock overhauls in March and April of this year, respectively, for Medallion cruises beginning in January 2018 and March 2018, respectively. According to Padgett, it takes 12 days to implement the system.

Sensors have also been installed in other facilities, including buses, cruise terminals, and select ports of call.

Inspired by Disney’s MagicBand

Before joining Carnival in 2014, Padgett spent 18 years with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts where he and his team led the company’s shift to guest experiences grounded in personalization, customization, simplicity, and connectivity as the vice president of game changer experience development.

“To have a single device with a single form factor that applies to everyone from 9 to 90 year old and changes the way everyone has a vacation.”

Padgett spearheaded the invention, development, and implementation of new technology like MagicBand and FastPass+, which have changed the way guests interact with resorts, attractions, stores and restaurants throughout the Orlando theme parks. Launched in 2013, the MagicBand uses Radio Frequency technology to eliminate the need for hotel keys, park tickets, and credit cards. A chip inside the bands, which come in an assortment of colors, tracks everything for the guest and simply requires a quick connection with sensors that have been installed throughout the parks and resorts.

Padgett told Digital Trends that the MagicBand was incredible technology, especially since its development came about before the iPhone had fully manifested itself and before the notion of a wearable even existed on the planet.

“To have a single device with a single form factor that applies to everyone from 9 to 90 year old and changes the way everyone has a vacation, today the world is just beginning to understand how big that change was,” Padgett said.

And now Padgett is taking that concept forward, thanks to new technology that wasn’t invented when he worked on Disney’s MagicBand, and focusing on the cruise industry for the first time. While Padgett’s experience at Disney may have influenced Ocean Medallion in some fashion, he told us that the technology is completely different and unique.

“What we’re doing with Medallion takes it to the next level and personalizes the experience delivery across the entire vacation,” Padgett said. “And it does that in a way that no one else has come close to. It’s completely frictionless. You don’t have to do anything. You just have to have it. It creates an aura around you that’s magical. And then every service interaction on your cruise vacation is completely personalized and frictionless.”

The Medallion streamlines and expedites the port embarkation and disembarkation process, which anyone who’s been on a cruise knows can be a major hassle. Padgett said it also ties into the Ocean Ready system, which eliminates the need to retype all of your passenger information every time you prepare for a new cruise.

The Medallion acts as a room key and automatically locks and unlocks your assigned stateroom door. It serves as a credit card for all purchases on the ship. And it helps guests find their way around the cruise ship. It pairs with Ocean Compass, a digital experience portal that acts as an Ocean Concierge. The Compass is accessible online, on smart devices and on digital displays throughout the cruise ship and through interactions with crew who have access to a Crew Compass. You can create a custom avatar that will appear on the app, online and through thousands of portals spread throughout the ship.

Mapping your cruise line ‘genome’

Padgett said one of the key differentiators for this new technology is the ability for the Medallion to recognize each guest as an individual with different needs, wants, and desires based on that particular vacation at that particular time.

“You may be on family vacation or going on a business trip or hanging out with buddies,” Padgett said. “The Medallion fuses the digital and physical dimensions in real time and creates experience intelligence around the guest and then optimizes and maximizes that data to invite guests into experiences that they would like. It’s not big data and analytics in a cloud. We don’t subscribe to that because it only helps future vacationers. We have a real-time learning model that engages you.”

The Medallion can recognize each guest as an individual with different needs, wants, and desires.

Padgett and his team have developed a genome (AI) that evolves at (3x) three times per second and offers continuous learning based on what you do and where you are. It starts with the information you provide pre-arrival with preferences like wanting a relaxed or active vacation. But once you step on board the ship, the experience algorithm recognizes you through physical and digital interactions and adjusts accordingly.

“Our strategy is for the technology to be seamless and disappear,” Padgett said. “The Medallion is so simplistic it’s not supposed to be technology. You can have zero tech savvy and zero propensity to have any tech extras and still have a Medallion Class experience.”

Padgett has designed the Medallion to work year-round, enabling guests to play games and interact outside of the actual cruise vacation. Ultimately, the Ocean Medallion is about improving the customer experience, which means customers are more likely return.

“If it’s better for you, you value our vacations better and then we do better,” Padgett said. “We don’t do it to you [to get] more of this, or sell you more of that. Because that’s the way it has been done for years. This is guest centric, and it just allows you to choose what you want to do. But we always make sure you have plenty to choose from.”

Les Shu contributed to this article.