Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

Desti, a Virtual Personal Assistant for Travel, Launches on iPad

Call it a first-world problem, but many of us know what it’s like to spend hours poring over Web sites — and these days, mobile apps — to put together a travel itinerary.

Desti, a free mobile app that’s launching in beta form today, wants to combine natural language search with artificial intelligence technology to make the whole thing easier.

So, what does that mean?

The app promises to process your real-life questions, like “Where can I find a hotel that is dog-friendly?” to find relevant and nearby results. Other query examples shown in early demos of Desti include “Find me a romantic bed and breakfast,” or “What’s a good Italian restaurant in the area?” (Desti was originally going to be demoed at our D:Dive Into Mobile conference, which was postponed due to Hurricane Sandy.)

From there, the app intelligently crawls the Web and pulls information from a variety of sites, including TripAdvisor and Foursquare, to bring up results. It also shows friends’ travel “collections” within the app, although the social element is pretty nascent given that the app just launched. Over time, it’s supposed to factor in users’ past experiences and preferences.

Desti has been in the works since 2011, and was incubated at SRI International, the nonprofit research institute known for its work on the DARPA-funded CALO project, which became the source of the technology behind Siri.

A few things worth noting about Desti: To start, it’s only available on iPad. An iPhone app is in the works for the new year, Desti CEO Nadav Gur says. For now, Android fans are out of luck, as the company doesn’t really have a timeline for when an app for that OS will be introduced.

It won’t help you search for flights, nor does Desti plan to get into that side of the industry.

And, right now, Desti is only serving Northern California. While the company builds out the product, it will primarily offer day-trip suggestions rather than bookings for extensive travel or long vacations.

So it’s early days, for sure, but Desti is looking to position itself as a “smarter” travel app, one that addresses on-the-go consumers and the growing mobile travel market. By some estimates, the number of mobile users booking travel on their devices is expected to more than double, to 36.7 million, by 2012.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald