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Finland university aims to solve cruise liner passenger safety issues with ‘coughing robot’

Finland’s Healthy Travel project, based at the Åbo Akademi University, is aiming to offer the global cruise industry a lifeline as cruise lines aim to set sail safely once again – through the use of a “coughing robot”.

In the multi-disciplinary initiative, Finnish academic researchers, cruise companies, shipyards, and subcontractors are coming together to develop and implement science-based solutions that will improve health and safety on cruise ships and in terminal buildings.

Finland’s Ambassador to the United States, Mikko Hautala, and his team are now connecting American cruise companies with their Finnish counterparts to ensure that the US cruise industry – the largest in the world – is an active participant in the recovery and future of the global cruise industry.

Ambassador Hautala says: “Many of the big cruise ships sailing the Caribbean were designed and built in Finland, and many of our largest customers are US cruise companies.

“Our best minds have come up with practical ways to keep passengers happy and healthy and Finnish maritime companies are already implementing innovative solutions. Our aim now is to share our research with leading U.S. maritime companies and enlist them in global recovery efforts.”

The Healthy Travel Project was initiated and funded by Business Finland in the fall of 2020. Researchers in cell biology and industrial management created models to analyze passenger flows on vessels of different sizes and developed processes and procedures to minimize infection risks.

According to KPMG, until recently, cruises were the fastest growing sector of the travel industry, with demand increasing by 20.5 percent over the past five years.

With 15 million people in North America taking cruises in 2019, the region was the leading source market for the global cruise industry. Growing demand for cruises also sparked an increase in industry-supported jobs. In 2019, the industry provided 436,600 American jobs paying $24.4 billion in wages – a 3.5 percent and 5.4 percent increase from 2018, respectively.

Ulla Lainio, head of marine and ports global industry team at Business Finland, says: “Expectations surrounding cruises today have changed beyond all recognition in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“While the safety and wellbeing of passengers and staff has always been a top priority for the industry, its recovery now depends on taking health and safety measures to a new level to drive stability and sustainability in the challenging years ahead.”

Collaborative research projects such as Business Finland’s Healthy Travel project will continue to produce innovations that will ensure the recovery and future viability of the cruise industry for many years to come.

Lainio says: “Finland now offers leading technologies and solutions focusing on indoor air quality, passenger flows, safety protocols, and touchless solutions. The insights gained from this vital research are also contributing to the design of new cruise ships.”

Based in the US, Lainio also chairs the Michigan-Finland Maritime Working Group, which provides a platform for innovative collaboration between American and Finnish companies and research teams, established under the broader state partnership between Finland and the state of Michigan.

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