“Not long ago, check-in was about a 30-minute process to get you on board a cruise line,” Hasty explains, touting a recent breakthrough. “It really felt like going through the TSA, not starting a vacation.”
To streamline things, Hasty and his team envisioned an “invisible experience,” fueled by customer-submitted cellphone selfies and pre-checks. But as they workshopped the idea, they discovered that removing all friction just resulted in confusion and guilt.
“It’s that feeling you get at a store with no registers; you’re supposed to just walk out, but you feel a little shady about it,” he explains. “That’s even more amplified when you board a cruise ship. You’re like, ‘Am I just supposed to walk on?’ As it turns out, guests need the feedback; something saying all is well.”
In search of a solution, Hasty turned to some old friends. “When I took it to Microsoft, some of the first conversations were: ‘We’ve never tried to do it this way. Let’s think with our hands to see what’s possible,’” he recalls. “It was never ‘We can’t get there,’ it was always “Well, this is what would be required to get there, so this is what we’ve got to go do.’”
In the years since Hasty has begun working with the Commercial Software Engineering (CSE) team, the relationship has empowered him to imagine with no limitations – confident in the knowledge that CSE will bridge the gap between his team and Microsoft’s product engineers, accelerating their capabilities through tech and innovation.
“They provided resources to help us validate things Royal didn’t have access to, like cognitive services and cloud computing capability that allowed us to recognize faces in a millisecond,” Hasty explains, pointing out RC’s privacy policies that ensure customer transparency and that captured images are only used for the cruise experience.
“The first prototype was a camera and a laptop with Microsoft Cognitive Services. Can we see these people, connect them to our data; can we check them in just using their face? From there, we realized that we want to talk about the guest experience, the height of the camera, the quality of the camera that we need, the flow of people, how fast can the camera pick up people, how many people can be in the frame at once.”
Utilizing an open source mindset, the CSE team worked alongside Royal Caribbean every step of the way to develop a solution that was both “invisible” and interactive enough to remove that sense of guilt.
“We noticed that when all these people went by, they didn’t quite know where to look, so we put a light ring on it. Then we realized people needed feedback, so we put a screen on it,” Hasty says of the project, which averages split seconds per passenger and is significantly faster than the manual review process.
“The LED ring gives you simple color codes – white says ‘We’re looking for your face,’ blue says, ‘We found your face,’ and green says, ‘You’re all clear.’ It happens almost instantaneously, everyone understands it instantly, and we’ve created a beautiful appliance that you can walk through with your whole family together at once.”
“Now boarding is literally, go up the escalator, walk by the facial recognition machine and onto the ship – welcome aboard,” Hasty adds with a smile. “We like to say car to bar in minutes.”
Echoes Schneider: “Joey and I are huge fans of the CSE group. Our focus right now is on how we leverage emerging technology to transform the guest experience, and Microsoft keeps us on the next edge of technology as it relates to disruption in our industry.”
To date, the relationship has manifested itself in a variety of ways. The aforementioned Edge Access tour app, for instance, is powered by Microsoft’s Capture Studio technology. Elements of Azure, AI and dashboards manage guest experiences daily, and RC attended last summer’s One Week hackathon on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, engaging with the CSE team on video analytics initiatives.