Posted Jan. 4, 2017 at 6:16 a.m.

Smart cruise concierge; e-cig battery probe; feds yank windmill funds; astronaut resolution

Published: 2017-01-04 06:16:20
Updated: 2017-01-04 06:16:20

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In today's Bulldog wrapup of science and technology news:

  • Cruise company Carnival gets personal with concierge tech
  • FDA probes dangers of exploding e-cigarette batteries
  • US yanks funds from unbuilt windmill farm
  • Astronauts' No. 1 New Year's resolution: Ace spacewalks

The details:

  • Cruise company Carnival gets personal with concierge tech

What if your room on a cruise ship were to unlock automatically as you approach, or if the wait staff could bring your favorite cocktail before you even ask?

Carnival Corp., the operator of such cruise lines as Princess, Holland America and Carnival, wants to make that happen so it can get cozier with its guests and make cruises even more personalized.

 Cruise That Knows YouCarnival is using the CES gadget show in Las Vegas on Wednesday to unveil new concierge technology designed to help crew members anticipate and respond to passengers' needs. It will rely on sensors and wearable trackers, and is scheduled to debut on the Regal Princess cruise ship in November.

The leisure-cruise industry is playing catch-up with travel peers like hotels and airlines, which now let you unlock rooms with a smartwatch or fly with a boarding pass on your phone.

Personalization is important as cruise ships get bigger and come across as impersonal, said Mike Driscoll, editor-in-chief of Cruise Week, an industry publication. Personalization can also help cruise companies attract more first-timers, including tech-savvy millennials.

"It's catching up to what life is like on the land," Driscoll said.

Whether anticipating guests' needs will feel useful or creepy remains to be seen. Those who might be spooked don't have to use the medallion or can limit how much they want to participate, Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said.

"In the end, the guests will tell us," Donald told The Associated Press. "If it doesn't (resonate), it's back to the drawing board."

The linchpin of the system is a tracking medallion the size of a quarter. Cruise passengers wear it as a pendant, throw it into a purse or place it in a pocket. The medallion uses wireless technologies to communicate with sensors placed around the ship, cruise terminals and even airports, where staff can provide personalized greetings as passengers fly in.

Crew members armed with tablets can respond to any needs nearby. For example, a guest could be having a drink when a crew member comes by to remind him that a yoga class starts in five minutes. Or a waiter working poolside can ask whether a guest wants her usual gin and tonic.

In addition, interactive displays can offer personalized directions to guests' rooms. And the medallion ties into a payment system, so no one has to swipe or sign anything when buying souvenirs or drinks.

  • FDA probes dangers of exploding e-cigarette batteries

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is probing the dangers of exploding batteries in e-cigarettes, following dozens of reports of devices that have combusted, overheated or caught fire and sometimes injured users.

The agency announced a two-day public meeting for April, according to an online posting.

The Associated Press reported last month that 66 explosions were identified by the FDA in 2015 and early 2016.

E-cigarettes are hand-held devices that vaporize liquid nicotine. Their safety has not been extensively studied and there's no scientific consensus on whether they help reduce rates of cigarette smoking.

  • US yanks funds from unbuilt windmill farm

A plan to build windmills off the New Jersey coast that has already burned through nearly $11 million and remains dead in the water is being cut off from further government funding.

The U.S. Department of Energy says Fishermen's Energy failed to meet a Dec. 31 deadline to have a power purchase agreement in place.

The department is revoking most of the $47 million in funding it pledged to the project in 2014; about $10.6 million has been spent already on preliminary work.

The project would have involved building six windmills about three miles off the coast of Atlantic City, which could have generated enough electricity to power 15,000 homes.

  • Astronauts' No. 1 New Year's resolution: Ace spacewalks

Astronauts up on the International Space Station are starting the new year with a pair of spacewalks.

Commander Shane Kimbrough said Tuesday his New Year's resolution is to ace the spacewalks to hook up new batteries this Friday and next week.

"All of our focus right now is on those," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Just to have those be successful, and everything to go well, would be a great resolution."

As for ringing in 2017, the six astronauts sampled such French delicacies as ox tongue, chicken in white wine sauce and gingerbread, courtesy of the Frenchman on board. No bubbly, though, just juice for the New Year's Eve toasts. Mission Control, meanwhile, has treated the crew to the latest space-themed movies: "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," as well as "Passengers" and "Hidden Figures."

"It's actually a lot of fun seeing space movies while you're in space, too," NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson told the AP.

Whitson — at age 56 the world's oldest and most experienced spacewoman — will go spacewalking on Friday with Kimbrough. French astronaut Thomas Pesquet will team up with Kimbrough for the Jan. 13 excursion.

The astronauts will plug in new lithium-ion batteries for storing solar power. To save time, ground controllers in Houston already have removed the old-style batteries that date back a decade or more, and positioned the new ones, using the space station's robotics

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