07.11.2016Personal Tech

Apps and gadgets that could make future travel a breeze

From robot luggage to translation earbuds, the future of travel is all about convenience
Apps and gadgets that could make future travel a breeze

The tech world has its eyes on the travel space and not just for trips to Mars. New inventions are popping up that aim to zap away every imaginable inconvenience when it comes to personal travel, and when you look even further into the future, innovations such as supersonic jets could completely revolutionize the way we move about the world. We spoke with a futurist about some gadgets, apps and cool predictions that could make your future journeys a breeze.

Planning your trip

Lola is a travel concierge app that aims to blend artificial intelligence (AI) and human intervention to answer any question you might have before or during your trip. Users of the service, which is currently invite-only, use Lola's chat app for every travel need, from booking flights and hotels to planning tours and experiences. Depending on the complexity of their questions, they're connected either to a chatbot or one of Lola's human travel consultants in a clever mix of AI and human interaction that is becoming popular with many new mobile services.

Yet trend-spotters like David Tai, founder and president of Quantumrun, a consulting agency that specializes in long-term strategic forecasting, see a future in which this kind of service is mostly, if not completely, AI-based. "Google and Microsoft will make reliable and super-powered AI assistants a reality by 2020. Travel companies and startups will then license this technology to make surprisingly helpful travel concierge services by 2022," Tai predicts. "That said, how well these future Siris work abroad will depend on the quality of broadband Internet in the countries that people visit," he adds.

Getting there

Actually getting to where you're going is never very convenient, but there are a few gadgets that could take some of the pain out of air travel. One intriguing option focuses on the annoyance of lugging a heavy bag around: the Cowa Robot is a motorized rolling suitcase that "follows" you around the airport by connecting with a wristband on your wrist, which also serves as the key to the bag. The Cowa uses obstacle avoidance technology to keep from running into other travelers. It sounds like the perfect solution to the problem of heavy baggage and a very entertaining airport scene, if adopted by many. However Tai warns that there's a chance motorized luggage could be considered a fire hazard by airlines. In addition, the bags may require maintenance on the part of the user that cancels out their back-and-neck saving utility.

Another travel-friendly gadget (available now) is SleepPhones, a soft fleece headband that contains earphones meant to be used during sleep to drown out bothersome sounds with the music or white noise you have saved on your device. SleepPhones offer both plug-in and wireless options and are aimed at side-sleepers and those who want to wear headphones while still comfortably resting their ears on a seat or travel pillow.

Easy translation

Translation is a booming tech category right now, probably because it's a problem that lends itself so easily to AI. There are already plenty of translator bots and apps out there for your device, but Tai sees a future in which figuring out how to communicate in a foreign city doesn't even involve fumbling with a phone: "Translation headphones or earbuds are less than a decade away. There already exist earbuds like the Earin that can alter your perception of the sound around you in real time," Tai says. "The combination of wireless earbuds, voice recognition and cloud-based AI will mean translation earbuds should be on the market by 2023 or earlier," he predicts.

Travel in the (further) future

Tai is most excited about the travel innovations that are a few decades away. "Supersonic commercial jets are about to make a comeback, as well as the coming introduction of electric airplanes," he predicts. "By the 2030s, both innovations will substantially reduce the cost of flights and their duration." Super-cheap and super-fast flights? That could be the most exciting travel innovation of all.