Detour lifestyle

Travel Tech News, Dec 2015: The Blue-Headed Robot Edition

  by Dave Dean2 Comments

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Charge your phone in a few minutes, be guided around the airport by a robot, take walking tours from your pocket and get ripped off a bit less by Verizon.

Here’s the final Travel Tech News of the year!

New Cities and Features From Walking Tour App ‘Detour’

Back in March I wrote about Detour, a travel app from Groupon founder Andrew Mason. It offers curated walking tours of a city, created by local experts and complete with audio commentary. Initially available only in San Francisco, the company said at the time it had grand plans to expand to other cities around the globe.

Well, that expansion has happened, along with a bunch of exciting new features… and a less-exciting pricing model, at least for individuals. While still strongest in its San Francisco home, Detour now also has tours available in New York, Austin, London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, and Marrakesh.

The app can now handle non-linear tours, to deal with disruptions like bad weather or opening hours. Users can answer questions about their preferences in real time, to ‘build their own adventure.’ Tours also now include recommendations for shops, restaurants and sights along the route.

So that’s all great stuff, but the new approach to pricing is less so. In the past, you could buy individual tours for five bucks, or yearly access to all tours in a city for $20. Now the tours are bundled into packages, which you buy for $25 — one-off pricing is no longer available. San Francisco gets the first (and currently, only) bundle, with ten tours included.

Now, I love walking tours in a new city, and take them wherever I can — and I still doubt I’d get through ten of them in all but the lengthiest visits. $25 is pricey for an app-based tour without human interaction, so it’ll be interesting to see whether this new model works for the company.

On the upside, if you’re traveling in a group, up to four people can use the same package once it’s purchased. Also, until Detour builds out its tour offerings in other cities, individual tours outside San Francisco are free. Get in while you can.

Well, if you’ve got an iPhone, at least. The Android version that was “coming soon” in March is still nowhere to be seen, although apparently development has started.

Charging Your Smartphone in 10 Minutes? Sounds Great.

NTU smart battery chip
Another month, another announcement about a battery charging breakthrough. One of the original researchers behind the lithium-ion batteries that power our mobile devices has announced a new chip that could cut charge times to under ten minutes.

The main reason charging takes hours at the moment is that power has to trickle into batteries to avoid them overheating and possibly catching fire.

With one of these smart chips in the charger, and another in the battery, the precise temperature and voltage can be monitored. This allows maximum charging speed without, y’know, combustion. The end result, according to Professor Rachid Yazami, will be dramatically-reduced charging times.

With apparent interest from major battery manufacturers, the new chip is expected to be available from late next year. Current fast-charging tech like Qualcomm’s Quick Charge takes longer, and relies on the use of specific mobile chipsets.

That said, at least it’s actually on the market today. There’s always a long way between excited announcements from researchers and a finished product you can buy.

As always, watch this space.

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Verizon Offers Less-Awful Roaming Option (But It’s Still Pretty Bad)

Money, phone and can
When it comes to roaming overseas with US carriers in the last couple of years, you’ve had two choices: Use T-Mobile, or get gouged. Belatedly entering the 21st century, Verizon recently started offering an international roaming package to its customers that’s not quite as awful as before.

Using the new “TravelPass” option, customers traveling in Mexico and Canada can now pay an extra two bucks per day to use their call, data and text package from home. That’s not unreasonable — it’s easier and likely cheaper than picking up a local SIM for short trips.

Outside North America, though, the price jumps steeply to $10/day — and even that’s only available in around 65 countries. While it’s better than ripping off roaming customers for thousands of dollars like Verizon has in the past, it’s hard to get excited about compared to T-Mobile’s version — unlimited data and text in 140+ countries at no extra charge.

Still, let’s stay positive and call it progress…

Lost in Schiphol Airport? Let Spencer the Robot Help

SpencerSchipholAirportrobot.jpgIf you’re the kind of person who regularly gets lost in airports, salvation is at hand — in the form of a navigation robot named Spencer.

This week, a research project aimed at helping people navigate large, complex terminals is being trialed at Schiphol Airport. Armed with an internal map of the airport and the ability to recognise hazards, Spencer will guide lost passengers to their gate.

It’s smart enough to wait for laggards when shepherding a group around, and is trained to navigate around other passengers rather than knock them over (which, to be honest, is a bit of a shame. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few slowpokes pushed out of the way by a robot on the moving walkways).

Armed with the data from this trial, Spencer is set to become a regular fixture at Schiphol from early next year. If you’re spending time at the airport in Amsterdam next year, keep an eye out for a stoic, blue-headed robot. It shouldn’t be hard to spot.

Images via DetourNanyang Technological Universityespensorvik and Örebro University

About the Author
Dave Dean

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a traveler for 20 years, and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken-down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.


  1. Avatar

    re: roaming abroad.

    Don’t forget about Project-Fi! It has the same roaming appeal and coverage of T-mobile abroad, but with better coverage and potentially better prices depending on the user.

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Very true! I tend to discount it because it’s so limited in terms of handsets, but that’ll only improve as time goes by.

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