In a competitive head-to-head battle, it was a UK-based firm to win the annual start up award in Las Vegas
Just for the record, UK-based Lola Tech is not in any way linked to Lola.com, the Boston-based business AI-fuelled travel app and brainchild of former Kayak founder Paul English, who was also presenting in Las Vegas.
“Yes, that caused a bit of confusion at first,” laughs Dazzle co-founder Charles Cadbury, who is, nevertheless, delighted to have edged out Bizly, a meeting platform for businesses, in the final seconds of voting. Dazzle, which took 51% of the audience vote, was one of ten startups to pitch to an esteemed panel of judges including Tim Hentschel, CEO at HotelPlanner.com, Brian Harniman, Managing Director at Brand New Matter, Utpal Kaul, Head of New Product Incubation at Carlson Wagonlit Travel and Matt Zito, Managing Partner at Travel Startups Incubator LLC.
Dazzle is the first commercial product of services driven Lola Tech, and in October last year was named joint winner of a Marriott TestBED competition. The prize, to test Dazzle on a six-week Marriott accelerator programme, is where it all started. As Cadbury explains, the hotel room was an obvious place to succeed with a conversational interface and clearly Marriott, which tested the concept in a successful pilot in its Hotel County Hall in London, thought so too. In just 70 days from having the idea, a functioning conversational interface was born, and the team is now working with Marriott to fine-tune the product.
In essence, Dazzle is a voice-activated concierge that uses Amazon Echo. At check-in the guests simply scan a code, which allows them to immediately ask questions such as 'Where is the pool?' or 'Where can I do some printing?'.
But when you get into the room, says Cadbury, "you can lie on the bed and simply talk" asking for anything from ‘Dazzle can you tell me how to access Wifi' to 'What time is check out? and 'Send me some slippers and a gin & tonic’.
Here is a short video explaining the technology.
Room for growth
Although the hotel room was the obvious starting point, Cadbury says there are opportunities for technology in many other verticals. “At the beginning of the summer, we started working with rail companies, which understand that they are difficult to get information from. What they are looking for is the ability to give accessibility to the service offering,” Cadbury explains.
As an example, if a traveller is walking to the train station and has missed their train, today they have to login to a website to know when the next train is. Just imagine how helpful it would be if you could open up a chat that could tell you in real-time when the next train is, which platform it departs from and so on. “Today finding more detailed niche information like, ‘can I take my cat on the train’ is really difficult to get on a website, but if the information can be provisioned through a conversational interface, you can get that information very quickly,” Cadbury says.
While most conversational interfaces today are for information purposes, the ability to transact is very much on the roadmap. In fact, in July last year, it already had a first proof of concept for a voice discovery and booking path for an airline. Having said that, Cadbury says, “there are some constraints at the moment, such as the need for an account with payment linked in”.
Cadbury admits that it is still early days for the technology. “We can’t answer all your questions yet,” he says. For this reason, while the AI driven system will respond automatically if it knows the answer, Lola Tech uses a human-in-the-loop architecture which, as the name implies, connects to a real person for more complicated queries.
If you missed the opportunity to compete in the Las Vegas competition, keep an eye out for upcoming competitions at future EyeforTravel events