From plastic-free airplanes and electric flights to micro-hotels and chatbots, 2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year in terms of new innovations in corporate travel. Seen is Connie the robot that Hilton introduced. Picture: Hilton.

Corporate Traveller General Manager Oz Desai shares the 6 new innovations for this year:

Micro hotels and airport sleep capsule: Last year, Yotel opened outposts with rooms as small as seven square metres in Istanbul’s Airport. Similar micro-hotels are popping up around the world.  Airport operators seem to believe business travellers could benefit from even smaller sleeping areas with a new prototype airpod sleep capsule being trialled in Europe in 2018, aimed at travellers needing a power nap when flights are delayed or when facing a long layover. The units feature ergonomically designed seats that convert into beds, complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi, air conditioning and air purifiers, power sockets, luggage storage and flight status screens.

Plastic-free flights: Companies are becoming creative to help reduce the amount of plastic they use, introducing alternatives such as bamboo straws, paper grocery bags and reusable water bottles. The travel industry is no exception. At the end of 2018, the world witnessed the first ‘plastic-free’ flight when Portuguese airline, Hi Fly, said it could “no longer ignore” the impact single-use materials have on the environment. The airline replaced plastic cutlery and containers with bamboo and compostable alternatives made from recycled materials. Ryanair has pledged its flight will be (single-use) plastic-free by 2023, part of a five-year plan to become “the greenest airline” and to eliminate non-recyclable plastics from both its aircraft and company offices.

A suitcase that follows you around: Do you hate dragging a heavy bag around the airport? A Chinese company has invented the first AI-powered suitcase, dubbed Rover Speed, that follows passengers around. The creation uses obstacle-avoidance technology that prevents it from crashing into things and sends a message to a registered smartphone when it finds itself more than two metres away from its owner. Whether you're roaming through the duty-free store for deals or rushing to catch a flight, this self-driving suitcase will be right there with you.

Electric aircraft: Rolls-Royce is working on a design for the world’s fastest all-electric aircraft. The ACCEL will be a zero-emissions plane that’s capable of speeds of 300 mph, which would make it the speediest all-electric aircraft in history. A team of British designers, engineers, and data specialists recruited from Rolls-Royce and other companies are working on the plane, which they hope will be ready to make its debut in 2020.

The rise of the robot hotel concierge: The dawn of the robot butler has arrived. Several hotel chains have been testing the technology for a few years now and, the overriding consensus is, robots provide a positive experience for guests. Last year, Hilton introduced Connie. Connie is a concierge that is able to inform guests about nearby places of interest, plus she provides dining recommendations and general information about the hotel. The Henn-na Hotel in Japan has taken the technology a step further. At check-in, a velociraptor greets guests at the front desk. Check-in is performed using a touchscreen, while a female Android bats its eyelashes at visitors. In the room, by face recognition, another robot named Churi San can be used to control heating, lighting, provide a weather forecast, and sing at a guest's request.

A chatbot at your beck and call: Imagine the following scenario: You are about to fly to France, your boss has asked for a draft of the presentation you thought you would complete on the plane. But you still have a sales meeting to attend, your partner wants to go out for dinner, and you haven't packed yet.At this point, a chatbot comes alive on your phone: "Air France is open for online check-in. Would you like your reference number?" The chatbot automatically populates the mobile check-in with your data and gives you a handy weather update: it's unseasonably cold in Paris. SAM, or the Smart Assist Mobile application, is a chatbot developed by FCM Travel Solutions that can do just that. 

SAM and other AI solutions are still evolving, and there is some way left to go. Still, this friendly travel bot is already simplifying and enhancing the travel experience for corporate travellers today.