Google Maps, Uber and online check-in have already transformed travel but the next wave of gizmos could revolutionise it.
You’re straight off the plane when your watch beeps – well, it’s not quite a watch; it’s a smartphone, folded and wrapped around your wrist – to let you know it has enabled a roaming service and connected to the local network. You remove the device, which has been busy monitoring your vital signs during the flight – and open it to phone mode, calling home to say you’ve landed. (Early prototypes, such as ZTE’s Axon M dual-screen phone in 2017 and Lenovo’s bendable model from 2016, have quickly given way to new materials engineered using graphene and flexible OLED displays that allow for tiny processors, foldable screens and even pliant batteries.) You strap it back on to your wrist, tap it at the immigration gate and keep walking as facial recognition and biometric software immediately confirm the data on your digital passport, registering your arrival.
An alert on your wrist indicates your smart luggage is heading to Carousel 2 and will arrive in eight minutes. Your phone scans the languages in the background and asks if you want to enable translation services. You say yes but tell it to skip advertisements. Then, after popping in a Bluetooth earbud, you hear everything in English. It’s a far more seamless experience than in the early days of simple translator apps from Microsoft and Google. At the carousel, your bag confirms your fingerprint and deactivates anti-theft functions. Your phone’s contextual artificial intelligence (AI) – an evolution of Siri and Google Assistant that delivers information intuitively – starts step-by-step navigation to your self-driving hire car. The vehicle already has the hotel’s details programmed in so you take a back seat and settle in for the ride.
It’s your first time in this city so you’re keen to explore. Opening your foldable phone to tablet size, you hold up its camera to the skyline. The screen begins to pop up recommendations, based on your AI assistant’s knowledge of your interests. It suggests a restaurant that’s been awarded a Michelin star. Unlike previous iterations of augmented reality (AR), mixed reality combines AR and virtual reality (VR), allowing for a more immersive experience. You take a real-time tour of the restaurant in Ultra HD. You ask questions about the menu, which the AI service bot answers. Another word to the AI and you have a booking. Your phone puts it in your calendar and adds a request for a car service.
By the time you arrive at your accommodation, you’ve been automatically checked in by the hotel’s AI and your phone has the digital key information, opening your door with a tap. There’s no hotel wi-fi to log in to, thanks to the pervasive 5G network. (Launched commercially at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, the super-high-speed, high-bandwidth network is a given. With speeds in excess of 10GB/s, it has replaced home wi-fi and many fixed-line internet services.) You fold your phone into bedside mode and it wirelessly charges on the table. It sends your favourite music to the hotel speakers, sets your preferred room temperature and lets the shower know the water pressure you like best.
Illustrations: Rohan Cain