Lonely Planet Writer

The top 10 technological advances in 2016 that will make travel easier in the future

It seems as if every time we travel, there is some new innovation awaiting us at the airport or the hotel at our destination. Apps and mobile devices have made travel seamless, while across the globe, tourism is experimenting with robots and other technology to make life easier.

Man uses chip in his arm as airplane boarding pass

Smartphone boarding passes have become common over the past few years Image by Thomas van de Weerd / CC BY 2.0

Huge advances in technology have been making air travel ever more convenient with mobile boarding passes and automated passport scanners cutting waiting times. One tech entrepreneur went a step further this year, and in what could have been a scene from Minority Report used a chip implanted in his arm to board a plane in Stockholm.

Smart earpiece offers instant foreign language translation

New app with smart earpiece to instantly translate foreign languages.
New app with smart earpiece to instantly translate foreign languages. Image by Carlos Varela / CC BY 2.0

Language is one of the last great barriers we face when travelling, but even that looks as if it could eventually become a thing of the past. Waverly Labs came up with a tiny earpiece called the Pilot that offers real-time translation using advanced speech recognition technology.

Apps that allow for last minute airline upgrades

Business class seat on an airplane.
Business class seat on an airplane. Image by Klaus Rein/Getty Images

If, at the last minute, the thought of a long flight in coach suddenly seems terrifying, then help was at hand in the form of a range of new apps. Numerous apps are now offering online auctions or online swaps to move up to business class or simply swap to a seat with more legroom.

High speed Wi-Fi in the air

Broadband on a plane?
Broadband on a plane? Image by Simon_sees / CC BY 2.0

A few years ago, the idea of being able to check your email mid-flight seemed sort of miraculous. Now, we are not happy unless we can stream music from Spotify or watch our favourite box set on Netflix. Luckily, airlines are obliging and super-fast internet speeds were being rolled out across the world over the past year.

A digital pill to make for the perfect air journey

Rows of pills on white background
Image by Getty

British Airways is exploring technology that would allow them customise air travel according to individual passenger needs. A passenger would simply swallow a small non-digestible pill, which would monitor their vital signs, and let crew schedule their eating, sleeping, and waking hours on board to make for the perfect trip.

Virtual Reality changes how we travel

Some predict virtual reality will be used more and more in travel.
Some predict virtual reality will be used more and more in travel. Image by Sergey Galyonkin / CC BY-SA 2.0

Although a technology still somewhat in its infancy, 2016 may well have been the year that virtual reality finally started to arrive. No less a person than Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg predicted a future of virtual reality travel and international companies like Marriott, Hilton, and Carnival Cruises were all allowing their clients test out VR.

Hotel group offers voice-activated guest rooms

New technology allows hotel guests to control room features with smartphones.
New technology allows hotel guests to control room features with smartphones. Image by closari / CC BY 2.0

The hotel chain Aloft began offering a new feature that let guests control temperature, lighting, music and other services by voice. It used the same Siri technology that offers voice activation on iPhone and was trialled at their hotels in Boston and the Californian city of Santa Clara.

Self-driving bus gets ready to depart in Singapore

Busy streets in Singapore Chinatown
Busy streets in Singapore Chinatown Image by Getty Images

Self-drive cars and vehicles were probably THE single most talked about technology during 2016. In Singapore, the city is readying itself to put self-driving buses on the road, and signed an agreement to get automated vehicles on the road for carrying passengers, and potentially street cleaning and garbage collection.

Robot helper goes to work at Japanese airport

Haneda Airport, Japan.
Haneda Airport, Japan. Image by Junpei Abe / CC BY 2.0

Robot technology has been all the rage this year with airports and hotels getting in on the act. At Tokyo Airport, a robot guide began working as an automated guide providing information to travellers on flights, airport facilities, and weather in three different languages: English, Chinese, and Japanese.

Passengers still want the human touch when it comes to air travel

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines' robot, named Spencer.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ robot, named Spencer. Image by KLM

Even if new technology is revolutionising the way we travel – that does not mean people still do not want old-fashioned good customer service. A survey of passengers found that people did not want airline security replaced by automated machines or robots, and that more than half believe a combination of a human pilot and autopilot is the safest way to fly.