Back at the 2017 CES show in Las Vegas, Carnival Corp. introduced a Star Trek communicator-like device called "the OceanMedallion," which it intended to deploy on its Princess Cruises fleet. While you can't slap your chest and call the Enterprise bridge with it, the token does let you unlock your stateroom, order drinks, and help housekeeping staff keep track of whether or not your stateroom is occupied. It's been two years since that announcement, and the OceanMedallion has not only become an important part of Princess Cruises' offering, it's also an excellent case study in how to use technology to enhance your customer's experience.
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On Sept. 4, 2019, PCMag boarded the Caribbean Princess at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in New York for a tour of the ship. John Padgett, Chief Experience & Innovation Officer at Carnival, provided us with an update on the implementation of the OceanMedallion and Internet of Things (IoT) architecture around the ship.
Since the 2017 announcement, Princess Cruises has been deploying the OceanMedallion on several of its cruise ships. While the Caribbean Princess was the first ship fully outfitted with the device, the company has four ships now using it. That's partially because deployment is a lengthy process as it involves not only the technology component, but a whole new service tier to support it, called the MedallionClass service. The company said it will launch a fifth ship in the series, the Sky Princess, in October 2019, and another six ships with MedallionClass will be introduced in 2020.
While the OceanMedallion is a nifty device, what's important to Carnival Corp., is the MedallionClass service, because its goal is to maximize the company's customer experience. Weighing just 1.8 ounces and coming in at about the size of a US quarter, the OceanMedallion enables MedallionClass by connecting customers with the ship's various services in a very personalized way regardless of where they are on the vessel.
Customers receive the OceanMedallion in the mail prior to their arrival on the cruise ship. They can wear it as a pendant, in a clip, on a sports band, or on a bracelet. Tech consulting firm Nytec designed and built the hardware as wearable IoT tech designed specifically to connect to Princess Cruises' shipboard sensor and data network. Matter, a design and innovation firm acquired by Accenture in 2017, also helped design the platform. The device offers no interactivity of its own, appearing as just a burnished aluminum token emblazoned with the cruise line's logo and laser-etched to show the passenger's name, the ship's name, and the sail date. There's no screen or switch, just the token. Inside, however, the OceanMedallion contains micro antennas that enable both Near Field Communication (NFC) and Bluetooth connectivity, which allow it to "talk" to the wide variety of sensors, kiosks, and other connective devices that Carnival has deployed throughout its MedallionClass ships. Carnival claims that the OceanMedallion is "waterproof, sunproof, and sandproof," but it offers similar protection from the elements as a common smartphone.
What makes the OceanMedallion so attractive to Carnival isn't just its connective capabilities; it's that it enhances the customer's experience while at the same time simplifying it. Before cruise ships offered medallions, they would offer cruise cards, a form of ID on a boat that allowing customers to pay for items with enabled point-of-sale (POS) devices. They might also offer swipe cards, keys, and other devices each synced with different ship services. MedallionClass does away with that, allowing the customer to carry just one token, the OceanMedallion, while still being able to interact with every customer-facing aspect of the ship from the passenger's cabin door to all the popular games in the casino. Carnival offers a cruise ship card to passengers who decline an OceanMedallion, but Padgett said they often request the chip after a couple of days on the ship.
By incorporating tech like the OceanMedallion, Carnival aims to eliminate friction in the passenger experience, according to Padgett. Although Carnival offers a connected IoT experience on the ship, the company's goal is to minimize the obtrusiveness of the tech. By eliminating friction, "guests can be freed up to enjoy the experience more and [therefore] consume more experiences," Padgett said.
Edge Computing and the IoT
If you peek under its hood, the MedallionClass is an example of edge computing, because it deploys sensors and mobile data collection devices on the ship, where they perform their operations closer to where the data originates and interacts rather than bouncing every transaction all the way to a centralized database in the cloud. This architecture reduces latency, which, aside from making luxury cruise passengers happier, is used in many businesses to speed up data analytics, enable a wide variety of customized "smart" devices, and reduce server-side network traffic. According to a recent Juniper Research report, the number of connected IoT sensors and devices will grow to more than 50 billion by 2022.
During our press tour, we queried Padgett on the OceanMedallion's security capabilities given how much personal information the MedallionClass service could have access to. The answer didn't disappoint.
Carnival says that each interaction with the Ocean Medallion involves a two-factor authentication (2FA) process. The two factors are the OceanMedallion itself and a customer ID. For example, when passengers check in to board at the terminal, they use the OceanMedallion to tap an NFC reader at a kiosk, which verifies them based on both the token and their ID number. Boarding the ship this way not only improves identity management and verification, it also helps speed up the ship boarding process, according to Plodgett, which again, makes customers happier because they get to their cabins faster.
When customers transmit data, the OceanMedallion encrypts it using the 128-bit AES encryption inherent in Bluetooth Low Energy, which is what the OceanMedallion uses. But if customers lose the token, then their data still remains safe, according to Padgett, because none of it is on the device. "This is simply an encrypted license plate number that means nothing," he said. "If you lose it, we'll pick it up; we deactivate it or deliver it back to you."
To keep its attack vectors as low as possible, Carnival takes pains not to replicate passenger data on its network. If customers decline to share their whereabouts with the OceanMedallion system, then they can switch the chip into "Safety Only" mode using either an on-board kiosk or one of the MedallionClass' associated mobile device apps, which are available for both Apple iOS and Google Android.
"We practice minimization or almost-elimination of replication of data across the platform," Padgett said. "We call up information, use it, but don't replicate it. And so we don't proliferate information across the ship."
IoT Throughout the Ship
What gives the OceanMedallion the ability to make passengers' lives so friction-free is Carnival's shipboard IoT network. This is a web of roughly 7,000 sensors that needs to be enabled for every MedallionClass vessel. From shops to bars to the ship's casino, every area is connected. Every stateroom features an access point. Padgett noted that this not only enables MedallionClass, it also helps solve the old problem of cruise ships being known for subpar connectivity. By including an access point in each stateroom, Carnival hopes to overcome this problem.
"Each stateroom is [effectively] a steel box," Padgett said. "So, unless everyone has an access point, we can't guarantee ubiquitous service."
Antennas for Carnival's MedallionNet Wi-Fi network sit on the end of the ship overlooking the pool (see image above). The Caribbean Princess also features 4,000 interactive portals. The OceanMedallion can personalize what you see on portals throughout the ship, which also extends to the TVs in your stateroom and on the large touch-screen kiosks near elevators and other places around the boat.
The OceanMedallion also connects to a feature that's in both Carnival's mobile apps as well as its interactive portals, called "OceanCompass," which helps you both find your way around the vessel and also track the location of fellow passengers. So the OceanMedallion provides a way for parents to locate their children if they've gotten separated, or it could help elderly passengers find the shortest route to their destination simply by waving their OceanMedallions over a reader next to a screen.
Hovering the OceanMedallion over an NFC reader next to a kiosk also lets you access personalized data, like your itinerary for the trip. Again, this data isn't stored on the OceanMedallion. Instead the device is used to simply verify your identity so the kiosk can access the data from a single store on the network. You can also access a friend's itinerary with the proper permissions and the screens let you swipe from one day to the next through the itinerary with the sunlight in the image changing based on the time of day in the schedule (see image below).
Constant connectivity and a personal indicator means the ship always knows where you are when you're aboard. That enables services like "OceanNow." This lets you order food through your mobile app or via a kiosk or portal and have that food delivered no matter where you wander on the ship, in a way similar to how Uber Eats works. While the mobile apps work well, Padgett points out that the company has invested in the large number of kiosks and portals so that passengers can still get the full OceanMedallion experience without having to carry their mobile devices with them. This seems like an unrealistic scenario in 2019, given the average person's desperate dependence on mobile smart devices. However, Carnival wants people to know that the OceanMedallion provides customers with another option besides their phones.
Individualized Data Collection
While Padgett stressed that the service tries hard not to replicate data, that doesn't mean it isn't collecting any. A big part of how the OceanMedallion works is highly individualized data collection for every passenger. It's the type of data being collected that makes the difference. Part of it is the payment information you'd use to purchase a drink or the room number you use to unlock your cabin door. This is data the cruise line would have in any case whether or not you were using a smart device, like the OceanMedallion. The rest is data the system actively collects based on your activities on board the ship, and that can get highly personal.
The crew on the boat uses a service called "GuestView" that gives them insight into each customer's preferences based on past transaction history, like what kind of drinks the customer might prefer or what kind of casino games they most enjoy. But when it comes to data collection, Padgett rejects the idea of big data collected on passengers in favor of "experience intelligence," by which he means the guests will benefit from the data to help their experience rather than the crew.
"Our focus with experience intelligence and the real reason behind this extensive, real-time IoT," Padgett said, "is to make sure you, as a guest, benefit immediately from the intelligence you create."
That, of course, somewhat glosses over the issue of what Carnival will do with that data once your vacation is over, but it's undeniable that it'll help your enjoyment of a cruise while you're on the ship. It also means you're likely to see similar devices appearing in large resorts, casinos, and other tourist venues that can benefit from a friction-free customer experience.
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