Bidets always seem to be a superfluous use of space in villas and they are going a bit out of fashion. But I realise that they are valued as a part of bathroom cleansing in a number of cultures. Ritz Carlton Maldives features a toilet with a built-in bidet so you can have the option with out the extra item in the bathroom. It also includes subtle LED lights to help you find the toilet in the dark (so you don’t have to disturb your partner by turning lights on). That is a commode that is very a la mode.
Best of the Maldives: Drone Research – Ritz-Carlton Maldives
Maldives Complete focuses on innovative offerings and features at various resorts and increasingly those are applying modern technological innovations like solar power, controls, apps, etc. But Ritz Carlton Maldives is investing heavily in creating the innovation itself with its Plastics Drone Project. The Ritz has embraced and sponsored the work of Melissa Schiele, a PhD Student at Loughborough University in Marine Engineering and Ecology who has lived and worked in the Maldives going on ten years. She is the Founder and Principal Investigator (lead scientist) of the Plastics drone project.
When I visited, I met Shaun Laughlin who is the current resident research on the project at the property who introduced me to the project and is the newest Naturalist drone pilot. But being a drone researcher is more than being adept with flying controls as Shaun has a background in science communication, expedition leading and herpetology.
This week I had a chance to catch up with Melissa personally to learn more about the drone ghost net research and other applications of the drone technology. Uses water landing, fixed-wing drones which flies between 10 and 20 metres high. Altitude is one of the variables that the project is experimenting with in order to find the optimal configuration for drone flights to achieve the best results in survey data collection.
Melissa shared the follow overview of the work to date:
- “I think the best and most poignant ghost net image we have, was taken by former Naturalist and drone pilot, Kat Mason, which shows an Olive Riddley turtle, ensnared in a ghost net, which was intercepted completely by chance on a drone flight. The discovery prompted an emergency rescue which involved several resorts, and the turtle was flown to Coco Palm for rehabilitation.
- “During pre-opening, Dr Sol and I located just under 20 ghost nets around the island [see photo at bottom]. There have subsequently been huge efforts to remove these nets from the reefs, some being extremely challenging even for our most experienced divers.”
- “The detection of ghost nets falls within the two routine flights carried out by the resort Naturalist per week, though results from my analysis may require this to be increased. Currently, I am analysing the data from the images, from the Ritz-Carlton site and our site in Faafu Atoll multirotor and fixed-wing output – pertaining to three distinct experiments we are running to detect all types of plastics and nets (59,000 images collected and counting!).”
- “What we can tell you, is ghost nets are extremely difficult to delineate let alone classify, in drone images, due to the complex and dynamic nature of their structure and movement. Dr Sol is feeding vast amounts of training data (from around the world) into his algorithm to see if ML can decipher the specific parameters of the nets. I’m looking at computer vision/signal processing techniques to see if the nets can be delineated by splitting the RGB channel (and in future, multispectral images). Ultimately, we posit that the more you fly, the more chance you have of spotting a ghost net. However, this research will also highlight the optimal temporal and spatial operational parameters (i.e. where you should be flying, and when) to increase interceptions.”
Actually, ghost nets aren’t the only thing the project looks for. It also can identify illegal fishing (but this application is being used mostly in the British Indian Ocean Territories, a smaller archipelago south of the Maldives).
The biggest area of focus at the moment is identifying ocean plastic. Just how to identify plastic in the ocean is a significant image processing challenge. But if it can be refined, then we can learn huge amounts about where it comes from, where it goes, how moves, and how we can address it. The Ritz Maldives resort provides an excellent laboratory for studying ocean waste because the landscaping screw cleans the beaches every morning. As a result, the project team can go through the waste that was collected and have a very accurate and consistent daily sample for a fixed stretch of land. That data can then calibrate the image survey from the drone. For example, if the drone detects 3 plastic items on the beach, but 9 were collected, that finding helps determine a multiplier that can be used in future surveys to estimate actual accumulation based on the identified fidelity of the aerial photography. And by looking at the composition of the waste in the ocean, we can start to determine how plastic and other items change with seasons, weather conditions, etc. The research is foundational in that a lot of what it is trying to do is to experiment with, test, and calibrate the use of drone technology as a technique for ocean surveying.
Finally, I especially applaud the way they turned this innovative research project into a creative guest experience. Guests can go out with Shaun on the ocean with his drone on the looking for the ghost nets along with him.
Best of the Maldives: Solar Tracker – LUX South Ari Atoll
Solar power is moving from innovation to the new normal especially at higher end resorts. Thanks to their Swimsol power generation, LUX South Ari Atoll can get identify how much clean energy they are consuming:
- “Guests can follow a live ‘solar tracker’ on their in-villas IPTV that will indicate the energy produced, diesel saved as well as the equivalent of carbon dioxide emissions savings to offset the number of long-haul flights.“
Best of the Maldives Online: Fish Identification – Name That Fish
Not purely a “Maldives” site, but ever so perfect for it. “Name That Fish” couldn’t be better named itself. Here’s the concept – load your snorkeling or diving videos up their website, they run it through their AI algorithm, and al the prominent fish in the video get prominently tagged with a box identifying their species. Lori and I love our piscatorial treasure hunts in the Maldives and can’t wait to get back to the room to go through our collection of fish identification cards and books to figure out the new things we’ve seen. Now we can just let the computer do the work while we go and sip our pina coladas.
The project is the work of Jake Easterling, co-founder of Scubotics, and features over 11,000 fish in its algorithm. The technology is especially interesting to me because it is the core of my day job. I run a company which uses machine learning algorithms to detect variations in brain health on MRI images of multiple sclerosis patients.
Before reviewing it here on Maldives Complete I thought that I should test it myself so I uploaded one of our fish soup heave vids from a recent trip. There is no formal charge for the service, but the site requests a donation and suggest $5 which seemed reasonable to me. I uploaded it and a few days later I received an email with a link to the new video in a Dropbox location (see above as I’ve loaded on my YouTube channel). It came out superbly capturing most of the main fish visible and no errors of identification that I could spot.
Best of the Maldives: Electronic Controls – Joali
The resort Joali is not just the “art” resort, but is also the “state of the art” resort. Fancy electronics and fixtures are not unusual in the high end Maldives properties. But nonetheless, sometimes the more swish switches are actually difficult to figure out what each one does. Sometimes when Lori and I want to turn off or on a specific light, we find ourselves embarking on a mini-treasure hunt trying different switches till we land on the right one. That is why we were de-lighted to see Joali’s controls. The wall fixtures were explicitly labelled. And if that wasn’t clear enough, they also provide an in-room ipad console which controls every device in the villa.
Best of the Maldives: Lit Menus – Faarufushi
For the squinting crowd whose arms are not long enough to hold a menu far away enough to see it, the romance of under-the-stars candlelight might add to the romance, but it also means you can’t figure out what you can order for dinner. Resorts have come up with a various solutions to this problem including the fiddly clip-on mini light or the serve holding a torch. But Faarufushi has introduced electronic menu tablets with soft back lighting to provide optimal visibility.
Best of the Maldives: Resort App – Dhigali
One of the most innovative features I’ve come across in 2019 is Dhigali’s Resort App. The resort describes:
- “We are very excited to announce the new Dhigali App (An application which can be downloaded to your mobile or Ipad from the app store, using a QR code . The App allows our guests to find information about our resort including our fact Sheet, resort map, daily activities, SPA, and dining options.”
Sort of a pocket concierge. I’ve already showcased the brilliant “Buggy Tracker” function which integrates with screens scattered around the island if you don’t have your device with you.
Best of the Maldives: Kids Electronic Detox – Dhigali
Sometimes resorts are distinguished not by what they have, but by what they don’t have. Especially, in the “get away from it all” remoteness of the Maldives, people are often on an escape from civilization. While so many properties have striven to provide all the creature comforts of home and then some, some times a few well chosen omissions are lauded by guests. One particular area is refuge from technology that has engulfed our modern lives. One of the most popular “back to basics” design features are those villas with no televisions in their rooms.
Dhigali has gone whole hog at least for the younger generation (arguably most at risk from digital drowning). Their kids club offers an “Electronic Detox”. It has no TV, but also no electronics of any kind no are any allowed in (and if you try to smuggle in that iPhone, the wifi is disabled there). Just analogue, real-world games and activities to thrill and distract.
Best of the Maldives: Reef VR – Carpe Diem
While still many “not seen yet” possibilities, my research is uncovering “finally seen” features I’ve proposed ages ago. Like Carpe Diem’s (also at the Raa atoll but didn’t get a chance to stop by this tour), house reef VR (which I proposed in Haven’t Seen #11 post, #4 a couple of years ago). The resort is doing more than just providing a sexy view of its underwater seascape, but is actually using the footage to assist with its reef conservation efforts:
- “Carpe Diem Maldives is excited to expand on the Dive with a Purpose marine conservation programme this September in collaboration with Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the United States of America…Using innovative imaging and data technologies to archive reefs digitally and watch how populations change through time. Recreational divers joining the cruise will learn how to take their own reef images to recreate a virtual reality of the dive using special software. During the Dive with a Purpose week on Carpe Vita from September 9th – 16th Dr Brian Zgliczynski, Project Director of the 100 Island Challenge will present to Carpe Diem’s guest divers the research work involved in the project and go diving with the Carpe Diem Maldives team and guests to lesser-known dive sites in Raa Atoll as they accomplish conservation tasks.”
Best of the Maldives: Buggy Tracker – Dhigali
There are “Best of the Maldives” features…and then there are like “soul mate” features. Features that I just adore. Not everyone will have the same effusive reaction I had to Dhigali’s “Buggy Tracker” application, but for me it was one of the highlights of the 2019 Tour.
The Buggy Tracker is an app that is both part of the resort’s own “Digalhi Maldives” app which you can download onto your smartphone (for iPhone’s, see the AppStore or you cann scan the QR code which is on every room key) – see photo below. It is also supported with an array of monitors dotted around the island at each buggy stop. The app/screen shows a map of the island as well as an icon for the constantly circling buggy so you can see how far away it is from you (see video clip at bottom).
Why a Buggy Tracker? Because Dhigali is sort of a middle sized island. We can and did walk around it, but a complete circumparaumbulation (yes, I love that word) takes nearly half an hour. If you are on the opposite end of the island to where you want to go, you might prefer to forego the stroll and just take the buggy ride. Maybe you are particularly relaxed, maybe you refreshed or it is especially toasty and you don’t want to sweat, maybe you need to be somewhere and are running behind (eg. excursion departing). On tiny island, you just walk everywhere because you are always a couple minutes away from anywhere. On big islands, you have to call for (or wait for) a buggy. When you call, you still have to wait which can be a while if they have other pickups scheduled. On a middle sized island like Dhigali, you can find yourself constantly debating “Should we walk or should we wait for the buggy?” And if you want to take the buggy and it is an on-call service, you sometimes feel a bit lazy and guilty ringing it up for a relatively short journey.
The Buggy Tracker takes all the questioning away. You look at your app or look at the screen and you can see exactly how close the buggy is. If you see if is coming round the bend, you might pop out that minute faster to grab it rather than miss it and wait for it to come around again. If it is on the other side of the island, you might choose to just hoof it. Or if you do decide to wait, it is reassuring to know exactly how far away your ride is and not have to wonder if you are going to be there forever.
Why do I love it so much?
- Innovation – The whole spirit of “Best of the Maldives” is really about innovation. Sure, a property might be able to be the biggest or the blingest by just spending the most on some feature, but more of my pieces are about creative touches and distinctive aspects that no one has done in quite the same way in the Maldives.
- Technology – As a software guy for my day job, I have a special appreciation for cool applications in this area. I have a particular software soft-spot for geo-location apps. Snorkel Spotter, Dive Site Database and the Admiralty Map DeepZoom all essentially mapping apps.
- Utility – The system is so simple and so useful. I love innovations that truly enhance the customer experience.
- Maldivian – I always enjoy meeting the fascinating people behind the scenes of the Maldives resort operations especially the local Maldivians to bring this paradise to life. Many have such distinctive talents and contributions. The entire project was the initiative of Mohamed Furuqan, the resort’s IT manager (see photo top). We got to meet up during my stay and geek out a bit about tech. It’s also especially inspiring to see the innovation stem from a homegrown initiative supported wholeheartedly by the management.