IT helps passengers, crew navigate gigantic cruise ship

Digital signage, facial recognition, handheld computers and RFID are used on board the Oasis of the Seas

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The POS and food inspection data is instantly fed to back-end Microsoft SQL Server databases where it is automatically analyzed and acted upon, whether it's to replenish low inventory in a store or to order that a food container be discarded.

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Computer systems and displays are used in the network operations center of the cruise ship Oasis of the Seas. (Photo by Juan Carlos Perez / IDG News Service)

Oasis of the Seas also has a face-recognition system that automatically sorts photographs taken by on-board photographers into each passenger's digital folder. Thus, passengers can stop at any time by the ship's photography center and, using touchscreen computers, access their photos, which they can then purchase or discard. The face-recognition system matches photos to the headshot taken of passengers during their pre-boarding registration process and which goes in their Sea Pass ID card.

Passengers use this Sea Pass ID card for a variety of other purposes on board. For example, parents can configure their children's cards to specify which activities they can participate in. This simplifies the verification process for staffers in the pool and activity areas, who only need to swipe the cards in their POS terminals and see what a minor is and isn't allowed to do.

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Adrian Strydom, Oasis of the Seas IT Operations Manager, stands in front of a closet full of Motorola handheld devices used by staffers to account for passengers in case of an emergency. (Photo by Juan Carlos Perez / IDG News Service)

Also getting an IT improvement is the emergency system. Passengers are assigned to different meeting stations to which they must report in the case of an emergency. Now the ship staffers manning those stations have handheld Motorola devices running Windows Embedded OS with which they can quickly scan passengers as they arrive, and know in real time if someone is missing. It's from these stations that passengers would go to their assigned lifeboats, if necessary.

Oasis of the Seas has an IT staff on board, a network operating center and two redundant data centers.

From Microsoft's perspective, Royal Caribbean has achieved in Oasis of the Seas the "intelligent system" vision of the Windows Embedded products, in which client devices are used to gather data that is then stored on the back end and analyzed for operational improvements.

"It's about providing not only the client operating system in the edge devices, but also integrating with back end systems infrastructure so that you have the security and manageability that's critical for CIOs," said Barbara Edson, general manager of marketing and business development in the Microsoft Windows Embedded group.

Royal Caribbean continues to add technology advances to its fleet. By next summer, Oasis of the Seas will feature high-speed satellite-based broadband service from O3B Networks for passengers and staffers. The quality and speed of the connection will be similar to fiber-based services in homes and offices, according to the company.

Abraham said Royal Caribbean is very satisfied with the way the IT infrastructure in Oasis of the Seas helps passengers and staffers without being intrusive or complicated.

"We were trying to have technology help our guests in terms of their experience on board, whether it's boarding the ship, learning more about activities or planning their day, but we also didn't want to be 'in your face' with the technology, so it's all very embedded in a lot of different elements," Abraham said.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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