Posts with «travel & tourism» label

Sundance’s ‘biodigital’ film festival will try to bridge the gap between VR and reality

Next year's Sundance Film Festival will mark a momentous return to Park City, Utah, after in-person festivities were cancelled last year. But Sundance isn't giving up on the digital platforms it used to stream films and bring cinephiles into a VR social hub last January. As part of its New Frontier exhibition, Sundance plans to expand The Spaceship, its virtual venue where attendees can chat together and explore VR and mixed reality art installations.

In an effort to connect Sundance's in-person attendees with its global online audience, the Festival will also launch a "Biodigital Bridge" in Park City. Shari Frilot, Sundance's Senior Programmer and Chief Curator of New Frontier, describes it as a human-scale screen where physical and digital attendees will be able to interact with each other. Developed together with the immersive studio Active Theory, the bridge will offer basic chat support, but it's mostly a way for Sundance-goers to see how other attendees enjoy the event.

Sundance New Frontier curator Shari Frilot.
Sundance Film Festival

Frilot says New Frontier has been pushing the concept of biodigital experiences for several years now, mostly through an exploration of how technology can intersect with our lives. Think of the way that an app like Uber, or even Google Maps, has reshaped the way we navigate physical spaces. But now that the pandemic has forced us to rely on our tech more than ever — Sundance wouldn't have been possible without it last year, after all — the term seems practically prescient. It's more than just a buzzword: Frilot says she's interested in exploring the technology that best serves humanity, or Team Human, as media theorist Douglas Rushkoff put it.

Last year, I found Sundance's online platform last year to be a fascinating way to explore the festival and interact with fans. The core of the experience is the aforementioned Spaceship, which allows attendees on computers and VR headsets to mull about together. On a laptop or desktop, it resembles a stripped down version of Second Life. You walk around as simplistic avatars, and if you choose, you can also flip on your webcam, which fills your avatar's head with a live video feed. Since Sundance's platform is built on WebXR, a way to deliver virtual reality over the web, you can enter that same space in VR by slipping on any headset and visiting Sundance's website.

Sundance Film Festival

Compared to SXSW's VR platform, which looked beautiful but mostly felt like a virtual wasteland, it was clear that Sundance got something right last year. After isolating for most of 2020, being able to see many of my cinephile friends in VR made last year's Sundance feel special. So for next year, Frilot says, the festival is going even further. The Spaceship will be upgraded with a new Cinema House, where attendees on computers and VR headsets can view events livestreamed from Park City, as well as room-scale discussions.

On the ground, Sundance will also have a new space called The Craft, which will let in-person attendees visit New Frontier exhibits, artist discussions and panels. There will also be VR headsets to use, though the festival is also encouraging people to bring their own gear if they've got it. Sundance hasn't finalized its list of New Frontier exhibits yet, but Frilot tells me many artists are optimizing for the Oculus Quest 2, so fest-goers can experience their work without being connected to a PC. But there will likely still be pieces that demand a serious VR rig. Sundance's famed Egyptian theater will also host some New Frontier performances, which will occur both on the ground and virtually on the Spaceship.

You'll need a $50 Sundance Explorer Pass to access all of these virtual goodies, which is double what it cost last year. It's a shame to see the price jump so quickly, but it's also reflective of the deeper commitment the festival is making in its digital platforms. Notably, the Explorer Pass is also open to people around the world, whereas Sundance's virtual screenings are limited to U.S. attendees.

"[The virtual platform] is not just this thing that we're trying, we're actually doubling down on this," Frilot says. "This points to the vital landscape of how cinema and storytelling is going to manifest [going forward]. We're here to not only contribute to it, but to meet it and support it."

'Hey, Disney' voice assistant comes to Disneyland in 2022

You won't have to book a trip to Florida to try Disney's Amazon-based voice assistant. Disney has revealed that "hey, Disney" is coming to Disneyland hotel rooms sometime in 2022. As in Walt Disney World, it'll be available alongside Alexa in your room's Echo speaker and handle request ranging from amenities through to stories and jokes.

Guests will also see some more technology when they're visiting the park itself, as MagicBand+ wearables will also reach Disneyland in 2022. You can use the wristband to enter the park, make purchases and otherwise go touch-free, but they'll also use a mix of lights, haptic feedback and gesture control to enliven your experiences in certain areas. The interactions will be specific to Disneyland, so you won't have to worry about rehashed 'magic' moments.

Both additions could save time and may be helpful as a lingering pandemic still leaves some people jittery about physical contact. And to some degree, this is about updating the image of the parks themselves. Disney clearly wants to portray the parks as tech-savvy, and the combo of voice control with wristworn devices might help.

GM's Cruise begins offering driverless taxi rides in San Francisco

GM's self-driving Cruise division has launched its fully driverless robo-taxi service in San Francisco, with co-founder and President Kyle Vogt getting the first ride. To start with, the service will be available for free to GM employees and certain members of the public, TechCrunch reported. 

"Earlier this week, I requested a ride through our Cruise app and took several back-to-back rides in San Francisco — with no one else in the vehicle," Vogt wrote in a YouTube video description. "There are lots of other Cruise employees (not just me) who are testing and refining the full customer experience as we take another major step toward the first commercial AV [ride hailing] product in a dense urban environment."

Vogt said the Cruise launched the Bolt vehicles on Monday at 11PM, and it "began to roam around the city, waiting for a ride request." He got his first ride from a Cruise Bolt EV called "Sourdough," saying the experience was "smooth." A separate video showed sections before and after the vehicle picked up passengers while it was in "ghost mode" with no one in it.

Early last month, Cruise received a California DMV permit to operate the service between the hours of 10PM and 6AM at a maximum speed of 30 MPH in mild weather conditions (no worse than light rain and fog). It's allowed to run them without drivers and charge for delivery services, but not ride-hailing. For paid robo-taxi rides, it must apply for a final permit with the California Public Utilities Commission. 

GM recently launched its "Ultra Cruise" system for passenger vehicles, promising that it will "ultimately enable hands-free driving in 95 percent of all driving scenarios." The company has spent 10 million miles testing the system, and its previous Super Cruise has generally garnered positive reviews compared to rival systems like Tesla's Autopilot.  

GM unveils a hands-free driving system that works in nearly all of the US and Canada

GM and Cadillac drivers have spent traveled than 10 million miles with their hands in their laps since General Motors introduced its Super Cruise driver assist system back in 2017. On Wednesday, the company unveiled its next-generation hands-free system — one that GM claims will "ultimately enable hands-free driving in 95 percent of all driving scenarios" — dubbed, Ultra Cruise.

What sets Ultra Cruise apart from similar systems, such as Ford's BlueCruise, is that Ultra is designed to work virtually everywhere in the US and Canada. At launch, the system is expected to work on 2 million miles of North American roads — that includes highways, city and subdivision streets, and paved rural roads — and will eventually expand to encompass some 3.4 million miles of asphalt.

If you've just bought a Super Cruise-enabled vehicle (or are planning to buy one of the 22 models GM will have available by 2023), don't worry, it's not going anywhere. GM plans to continue offering Super Cruise for its more mainstream vehicles such as the Escalade, CT4/CT5, Silverado and Sierra while Ultra Cruise will be reserved for the company's premium offerings. GM hasn't specified which vehicle will be the first to get it, though the company did note that select 2023 Cadillacs will be at the head of the line. 

Built atop GM's recently announced Ultifi (again, rhymes with "multiply") computing system and leveraging myriad optical cameras, radar and LiDAR sensors, Ultra Cruise will support automatic and on-demand lane changes, left and right turns, obey traffic signals, avoid obstacles and even park itself in residential driveways. Further improvements and refinements to the system will be delivered to vehicles via OTA updates. To avoid Tesla-style wrecks, GM will port Super Cruise’s Driver Attention Camera system over to the new system.

Uber can track flights and adjust reservations when you're arriving late

Air traffic is picking back up after dropping dramatically amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and more people need to get from an airport to where they're going. To make things a little easier for airline passengers, Uber is rolling out a bunch of tools centered around airport rides.

The Uber Reserve feature that the company debuted last November is now available for Uber Black and Uber Black SUV at more than 20 airports across the US, including ones in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Washington DC. You can book rides up to 30 days in advance. Uber will be able to track your flight information and automatically adjust your reservation time if you're going to land at a different time than expected. The driver will wait for up to 60 minutes at no extra cost to you and there's a curbside pickup option.

Speaking of curbside pickup, Uber says it's using machine learning to forecast demand so it can dispatch drivers and match them with passengers at the curb. The feature is live at 13 US airports, as well as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, London Heathrow, Montreal, Toronto Pearson and King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh.

A new feature called Ready When You Are will let you choose from a few pickup timing options when you reserve a ride after landing. You can make a request for 10 or 20 minutes out, or as soon as possible. This option is being piloted on Android starting today at six airports: Nashville, New Orleans, Portland (the one in Oregon), Philadelphia, Seattle and Toronto Pearson. The feature will hit iOS in November.

Finally, Uber Eats will let you order food in advance from some airport restaurants, so you can pick up a meal without having to wait in line. Uber is testing the option at Toronto Pearson, and it plans to bring the feature to US airports in the coming months.

Amazon made Disney a 'Hey, Disney!' voice assistant

Amazon and Disney has just announced a new voice assistant called "Hey, Disney!". Built on Amazon's Alexa technology, this new Disney assistant will be available in your home Echo as well as in Echo devices located in Walt Disney World Resort hotel rooms. You can use it to interact with characters from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and more. It is the first time an Alexa custom assistant will be available on Echo devices.

According to Amazon, this voice assistant will give you access to interactive storytelling experiences and entertainment featuring Disney characters. You can also play games and access jokes set in the Disney world. You can also use the "Hey, Disney!" assistant to set timers and alarms, or check the weather.

In Disney's hotel rooms, the voice assistant can be used to make your stay more pleasant. It can answer questions, fulfill special requests (like if you want more towels for example) and more. It's part of a new Alexa for Hospitality program that allows hotels to deploy Amazon Echo products at scale and feature customized screens as well. 


The "Hey, Disney!" assistant will be available for purchase in the Alexa SKills Store in the US starting in 2022. At the same time, Amazon also introduced a new Disney edition of OtterBox Den Series stand for the Echo Show 5 that has Mickey ears. It's available for pre-order for $24.99.

Follow all of the news from Amazon’s fall hardware event right here!

Super Nintendo World Japan confirms Donkey Kong expansion for 2024

Nintendo has confirmed that it will expand its Super Nintendo World theme park at Universal Studios Japan with a new Donkey Kong section. The new zone, which is reportedly already under construction, is set to open sometime in 2024 and will expand the park size by 70 percent, Nintendo said. 

"The area will feature a roller coaster, interactive experiences and themed merchandise and food," Nintendo wrote in a press release. "Guests will be able to take a walk on the wild side through the lush jungles where Donkey Kong and his friends live."


— 任天堂株式会社(企業広報・IR) (@NintendoCoLtd) September 28, 2021

Super Nintendo World opened in March of 2021 after a delay due to COVID-19, with mask-wearing, temperature checks and hand sanitizer requirements in place. However, a surge in the pandemic prompted a temporary closure a month later. As it stands now, travel to Japan is banned for tourists and other travelers. 

Nintendo plans similar attractions at the Orlando, Hollywood and Singapore Universal Studios parks. Key attractions at the Japan park are the Mario Kart: Kuppa's Challenge rollercoaster and Yoshi Adventure. Guests also get a "Power-up Band" that lets them collect coins and have other interactive experiences. 

"I am very happy to be able to make the world of Donkey Kong a reality following the world of Mario," said Nintendo Donkey Kong creator Shigeru Miyamoto. "I am looking forward to creating a thrilling Donkey Kong experience with the amazing team at Universal. It will take some time until it is completed, but it will be a unique area for not only people who are familiar with Donkey Kong games, but for all guests."

Airbnb says you don't need to be a host to help it house Afghan refugees

Airbnb announced earlier this week that it's offering free, temporary housing to 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan. Now, it says anyone with available space who's willing to house refugees can sign up to do so — not only Airbnb hosts.

The company is funding the stays through, its nonprofit that aims to provide people with a place to stay during times of crisis. The company and its co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky have donated to the efforts. Donations to the Refugee Fund will also help fund the program, and perhaps help cover the cost of more stays. Airbnb is waiving its fees on all refugee stays too. is working with partners including the International Rescue Committee, HIAS and Church World Service to help refugees find a place to stay. The nonprofit and Airbnb are also offering support to the federal government, as well as cities and states that have expressed openness to welcoming refugees.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says there are currently around 2.5 million registered Afghan refugees, as TechCrunch notes. Given the number of people who have attempted to flee Afghanistan since the Taliban swept the country and assumed power, there may be many more refugees who need support. Providing at least 20,000 refugees with temporary housing is a positive step to help them transition into their new lives, but Airbnb's efforts, while welcome, may prove a drop in the ocean when it comes to this humanitarian crisis.

Airbnb drops sexual harassment and assault arbitration rules for guests and hosts

Airbnb will update its terms of service to drop arbitration provisions for sexual assault or harassment claims by guests or hosts. The company expects the updated terms to be ready this fall.

"We believe that survivors should be able to bring claims in whatever forum is best for them," Airbnb wrote in a blog post. "We encourage our industry peers within the travel and hospitality space to consider taking similar steps for their respective communities."

The move will formalize Airbnb's current approach to such cases, which it adopted in January 2019. The company hasn't asked a court to force sexual assault or harassment claims by hosts or guests into arbitration since then. Nor will it do so until the updated terms of service are in effect.

"Incidents of sexual assault are extremely rare on Airbnb, but in these rare cases, Airbnb’s highly-trained Safety team works with survivors to put their wellbeing first," the company said. According to the blog post, members of its safety team have "undergone training in trauma-informed methodology and they prioritize supporting and empowering survivors in their healing process."

Airbnb didn't say whether it plans to change its arbitration rules for other types of harassment. It ended forced arbitration for sexual harassment and assault claims by employees in late 2018. Other notable tech companies ditched forced arbitration for sexual assault and/or harassment claims around that time, including Uber, Lyft, Google and Square.

Disney's Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel stays will cost at least $4,809

Disney's Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser promises fans the "most immersive" experience ever when it launches in 2022 — one that won't be cheap. The entertainment giant has revealed details and prices for the Star Wars adventure, including the fact that it will cost two guests in a standard cabin at least $4,809 for a 2-night voyage. Suites will obviously cost more, though visitors will pay less per person the more people there are in their group.

Disney describes the experience as "part live immersive theater, part themed environment, part culinary extravaganza, part real-life role-playing game." According to the Galactic Starcruiser's official page, guests' journey begins at the Walt Disney World Resort terminal where they'll board a launch pad and rendezvous with the Halcyon. 

Once inside, guests will encounter "story moments," wherein they'll play a real-life choose-your-own-adventure type of game, wherein they can decide how their story will unfold. They can, for instance, choose to follow the First Order or join the Resistance, choose to join a smuggling ring or to aid a stowaway. They can interact with familiar characters who'll serve as NPCs and take lightsaber lessons to take on foes. Participants can also go on missions if they want to delve deeper into their story. According to ComicBook, each trip on the Starcruiser will be one-of-a-kind, so those who can afford more to go on more than once could enjoy unique experiences.

The #StarWars: Galactic Cruiser hotel at Disney World revealed its prices for 2-day immersive vacation experiences:

-$4800 for 2 adults
-$5300 for 2 adults and 1 kid
-$6000 for 3 adults and 1 kid

Full info:

— (@ComicBook) August 4, 2021