Last week I had the opportunity to take a short trip into Cambridge, Mass., to check out the Marriott's new Teleporter at the Boston Marriott Cambridge by MIT. It was set up in the lobby just inside the front doors, a phone booth-sized apparatus that you step into, strap on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and wireless headphones, and head to Hawaii's Wai'anapanapa Black Sand Beach in Maui and London. Having seen the guy before me flail around looking for something to grab onto (and signing a waiver that I don't have epilepsy or other conditions that could be set off from the experience), I hopped in, strapped everything on, and took off.
Here I am in (virtual) Hawaii and on top of Tower 42 in London (that's the one that you want to be holding onto something when you land, since the roof slants and you feel like you're about to get pitched off!).
The point of the Teleporter, Marriott Cambridge's General Manager Alan Smith told me afterward, isn't so much to be a prelude to a virtual tour of meeting space (or much to do with meetings at all, since it likely wouldn't be a practical virtual meeting avenue for a quite a while yet, if ever), but to "create excitement about travel for generations that are into virtual technology." I'm not convinced it would actually do that, though. Even though it was pretty whiz-bang cool, and the misty sea breeze even smelled like a beach on the Hawaii portion, it still was kind of fuzzy and pixelated visually. Maybe the coolest part was being virtually propelled through what looked like a Marriott lobby bar (especially at the end, when it pulled me up to the bar and I couldn't help trying to touch things in front of me that weren't actually there in real life), and the funky wormhole effects when you're being transported from place to place. I think if you stayed in for more than the few minutes of the demo, it might make you feel a little nauseous too—the technology isn't quite there yet for an extended virtual stay, at least not for me.
For meetings, I think things like the Marriott Red Coat app that streamlines common requests like room temperature adjustments are much more practical. Another possible cool thing is the Six Degrees social hub idea that Marriott's working on with MIT Mobile Experience Lab, an app that travelers could download to find people who share common interests who are also staying at the hotel. It's unclear whether or not this would interface in some way with a meeting's own app, but it's another way people could potentially find connections outside of the obvious among others at a meeting. I love the idea of the "social table," whose LEDs light up based on the connections of the people seated around it when they put their phones on it. Talk about an interesting way to get some networking going! And check out Delta's "Innovation Class," a concept debuted at TED in March which is designed to meld with LinkedIn to pair people who want to meet with leaders in a specific field with said leaders during its flights—that could be potentially interesting for attendees on who want to get the conversations flowing before they even get to the event.
What new tech gizmos are you seeing that could enhance a meeting-goer's or meeting planner's experience, provided by hotels or otherwise? Please leave a comment below or e-mail me.