Airbnb is in the process of creating a concept for a “beam modem” device to help travellers navigate the world without internet access or cell service.
According to a patent published this week, Airbnb’s “design studio” is developing a concept where the device will help those with no access to the internet by downloading essential and lightweight information including maps and messages related to their trips.
Travelling without paying for cellular data is possible but a nuisance especially if the location you are travelling to has expensive SIM cards and data plans and a poor internet connection, but Airbnb may have a solution for these problems.
According to the patent, “When traveling in an area in which network connection is unavailable or unreliable or in which network connection is prohibitively expensive or inconvenient, the system … allows a client device … to connect to external web services without a direct network connection.”
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Alex Blackstock, an Airbnb employee mentioned in the patent application, published a photograph on LinkedIn which looks like the drawings in the patent, according to CBInsights. The start-up is currently worth $31 billion, a result of its massive user network rather than a result of its technological innovations in the past.
While there is no way to assure that Airbnb may produce the device, if it is successful in its efforts, it will be one of the first forays of the company into hardware. Currently Airbnb is also working on home features including key-less access with firms like Vivint. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has discussed technologies such as Bitcoin, smart TVs and artificially intelligent travel assistants.
A spokesperson said it was too early to discuss Airbnb’s intentions. However, if the company does build a device that can help users locate landmarks, restaurants and other travel destinations without service, than that will be a great achievement.
The beam device will include three parts – a “client device” such as a user’s phone or laptop, a beam modem and a beam API server. The device will provide compressed and ‘minimised’ data about the trip.
Before a trip, when the user has a good connection to the internet, the beam API server will receive information about where the user will be travelling and communicate with the client device to store map data for the travel location on the client device. Then, when the user is travelling in the specified location and sends a web request for location data, the beam API server only has to transmit data that has not already been pre-cached such as the location of a restaurant or point of interest, but does not have to transmit map data to enable navigation on the client device.
In the patent, Airbnb points out where it assumes people will utilise the device the most, namely Cuba, Africa and China, all of which have limited or censored mobile networks.