Steve Lee is Founder and Design Principal at Toronto-based Aprilli Design Studio, whose plans for an Autonomous Travel Suite (ATS) could see the world’s first mobile hotel room hit our roads within the next few years
by Will Hide, Click. Travel Writer
As the hospitality industry looks for new revenue streams, could self-driving technology be one answer? Companies such as Uber have been investing heavily in self-driving cars, and now hotels are showing interest too. The prediction is that hotel rooms on wheels could be hitting our streets within five years, linking cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
We catch up with Steve Lee, Founder and Design Principal over at Aprilli Design Studio in Toronto, who is working on an ‘Autonomous Travel Suite’, to get his take on the opportunities for the hospitality industry.
Click.: What exactly is an Autonomous Travel Suite?
Lee: The Autonomous Travel Suite is a theoretical project that introduces a new business concept of “transpitality”, which extends the conventional scope of hospitality to the field of transportation. As autonomous driving technology enables people to be freed from the driving wheel, the interior space of vehicles will be turned into mobile rooms with customised layouts, and people will be able to spend their time more productively.
In a broad definition, transpitality means any kind of service that can be provided once you enter a mobile room. The ATS shows the potential of consolidating different means of a transportation and hospitality service using emerging technologies.
Click.: How did you come up with the concept?
Lee: As an architect, I have been interested in how autonomous driving technology could transform vehicles into more habitable and “occupiable” spaces. For a long time, I have wondered why automobiles always have the same four-seat interior settings. Recent technological developments are enabling vehicles to become more intelligent and autonomous, so travellers can use their travel time and space more efficiently. I thought this would be a great opportunity for a new form of hospitality.
The real moment something clicked was when my wife was looking for a new job. Over three weeks she had to do 10 interviews in different places around the USA. Her schedule was crazy and she was really tired so one day I thought I’d put a mattress inside our Hyundai hatchback so she could sleep, and it was incredible how comfy that was for her when I drove her to interviews. I just thought, when people are no longer driving themselves, this space could be a mobile hotel room.
Click.: How do you see this being put to use by the hospitality sector?
Lee: I think this could work for shuttle services, automated check in and hospitality while guests are getting from A to B. Both customers and service providers will benefit. We’re currently in talks with a number of groups in the hospitality sector, including a major multinational hotel corporation who is interested in bringing this to the next level of development.
Design will be much more prominent in setting up the way businesses operate in the future
Click.: When do you think we’ll be seeing all this?
Lee: Once autonomous driving technology becomes the norm the ATS can become operational straight away. We estimate that it would be possible to start this from 2025 onwards between major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, for example. ATS is specifically targeted for 6 to 10 hour-long travels, bringing in competition against domestic air flights and rental car services by providing an integrated solution. Economically, it’s a very competitive travel option since it integrates flight and rental car cost and provides better comfort and productivity during the travel. It challenges all kinds of different transportation means requiring lengthy transfers and check in processes including flights, trains, buses and upcoming developments such as Hyperloop.
Click.:What do you think are the benefits to hotels and customers?
Lee: Hotels will be able to provide services for clients while they’re on the road, for things such as food and beverage, entertainment and relaxation.
Click.: Going forwards how will design change the hotel industry?
Lee: The conventional way the hospitality industry has been set up is quite static. Design has been focused on creating better special experiences and aesthetics but hasn’t really been a factor when it comes to business operations. There’s a huge technological shift coming, the fourth industrial revolution. The next decade will be a period where design and technology will be fundamentally changing the way the hospitality industry performs. Travellers will have better information, accessibility and mobility.
I personally think the hospitality industry should take a leading role in discovering new systems and ways to provide a better service for guests. How much does a hotel want to invest verses getting a decent profit? When these new technologies come out they are going to have significant impact in the way the hospitality industry performs, and the revenue stream of these projects will also seriously change. Design will be much more prominent in setting up the way businesses operate in the future.
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Will Hide is a travel writer and journalist, who spent 12 years on the travel desk of The Times before turning freelanceMore by Will Hide
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