Thursday, October 19, 2006

Loki - A new twist on Location Based Services

Traditionally, most software developers think of GPS or A-GPS as the preferred technology to pinpoint your location and deliver relevant content related to that location. Loki an application developed by Skyhook Wireless, uses the ubiquitousness of Wi-Fi networks to determine your location. Between the movement to provide wireless connectivity throughout a city (e.g. San Francisco, Philadelphia) and the integration of Wi-fi into portable devices (e.g. smartphones), the ability to use Wi-Fi to deliver location based services (LBS) has become a reality. In a recent article on LBS I authored for the PhoCusWright's GDX subscription service, I talked about the "walled garden" that exists at the wireless carriers which inhibits the advancement of broad distribution of applications. Despite the fact that the wireless carriers are gradually dismantling their "walled garden", companies such as Verizon and Cingular still make it difficult for travel software developers to use their network to deliver services that are specifically targeted to the business or leisure traveler.

Why is this important for the travel industry? The business and leisure traveler are by their very nature the best target for LBS. Business Travelers often are the early adopters of new technology. By enabling location identification through Wi-Fi access points, the traveler can benefit from a whole host of services. These may range from identifying restaurants in their immediate area to locating family members at a resort or theme park. These services can help suppliers and intermediaries bond with their customers while they are on their trip enhancing the travel experience and reinforcing the supplier or intermediary's brand.

Skyhook Wireless has recently opened up their API to allow software developers the ability to create location based applications on top of the Loki application. I encourage travel software companies to take a good look at Loki
. Here is a link to a
CNET video which describes the Loki service.

Friday, October 13, 2006

An Automated Travel Assistant

Every since I first viewed the historic Knowledge Navigator video produced by John Scully CEO of Apple in the late 1980's, I have believed that an intelligent assistant would truly be a killer app for the travel industry. As originally envisioned, Knowledge Navigator was going to be a tablet, the size of an opened magazine, and would have very sophisticated artificial intelligence. The machine would anticipate your needs and act on them. The Apple Newton was the first generation of these types of tools, but as anyone familiar with technology knows, the Newton was a resounding failure. (Though Palm a few years later did make PDAs a reality).

I have been involved with various AI scientists since the mid 1980s while I was still at United Airlines. A friend (the husband of one of my wife's bridesmaids) worked for a company called MAD Intelligent Systems here in Silicon Valley. Steve and I would spend hours talking about how to apply AI to the travel industry. Sadly Steve passed away in the late 1980s dying of leukemia at the young age of 35. Steve inspired me to continue to explore the possibilities of AI in the travel space.

We are now in the future (certainly in 1980s terms) and AI applications have been used in a variety every day activities. Examples include control, planning and scheduling, the ability to answer diagnostic and consumer questions, handwriting, speech, and facial recognition.

Over the years I have worked with a variety of clients who have tried to use optimization technology, constraint engines and other pieces of AI software to improve the travel process. Disruptive technology such as the Orbitz fare matrix was built by the AI scientists at ITA Software. My partners at Fetch Technologies represent some of the brightest minds in AI today. Once we are funded I plan to use AI techniques to fulfill the dream first described in John Scully's video. The creation of a master itinerary will allow us to run background queries to search for better fares, rates, and travel research items based on consumer preferences. In the early 1990s TMCs touted their mid-office software (such as TRX's CoRRex) as a quality control tool and as a way to search for better fares and seats against the GDS inventory. We are now in a much more fragmented, Web-based environment and the ability to use AI "agents" to perform similar tasks against Web information is not only possible, but can truly change the travel shopping experience.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fetch Collaborative travel planning tool

I wanted to provide you an update on my efforts to launch a new company based on the extraction applications from Fetch Technologies. As a reminder, through the use of a Web browser plug-in, the application will allow the consumer to Collect, Organize and Share travel planning, research, shopping and purchases across all the major travel Websites. Travel Tech Consulting, Inc. and Fetch Technologies will be the founders of this new company (name TBD). Fetch will have a minority equity position in exchange for a perpetual license of their patent-pending "As U Browse" technology. The new company will own the source code and have field of use exclusivity (travel industry vertical). The new company will be based in the San Francisco Bay area.

I am currently in discussions with a number of VCs and Angel investors who are considering investing in the new start-up. I also have begun my search for potential employees who have experience in the online travel industry and are interested in participating in this new venture. If you know of someone who would be interested in either investing or joining our team, please email me at