Where technology is concerned, most hotels are behind the times. Sure, they offer amenities like Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, USB ports, and perhaps some extras like iPhone docks, but most hotel rooms don’t impress.
As they increasingly cater to younger, tech-savvy customers, major hotel chains are trying to change by trialing new technologies that could some day make it into guestrooms. And some of these futuristic tech amenities are already in regular service. Here are some of our favorites.
The robotic bellhop
When the tech-savvy Yotel brand opened its New York City property in 2011, the big attraction was (and still is) the Yobot, a robotic luggage handler that stores guests’ bags (Yotel rooms, called cabins, are small, so Yobot is useful for putting away giant suitcases). The robotic arm automatically lifts a bag to one of its available storage compartments. Yobot can even send your luggage off to the airport after you check out (via a delivery service).
Besides the Yobot, Yotel features automated check-ins and check-outs (similar to airport kiosks), adjustable smart beds from Serta, and a “Technowall” with a flat-screen TV and streaming audio. The company recently announced it’s expanding the brand across the U.S., including San Francisco and Miami. No word, however, if Yobot will make the journey.
Hotels have gone mobile, giving you the ability to check-in and request services via a smartphone app. The James hotels in Chicago and New York have gone a step further by outfitting their properties with iBeacon sensors. With the app, James Pocket Assistant, installed, guests automatically receive notifications once they step onto the property, which could be anything from hotel information to special discounts. The app functions as a virtual concierge, too, allowing you to communicate with staff or find nearby attractions.
Several hotels are testing keyless entry, using a smartphone to open doors. The concept got a big push in March, when Apple demonstrated using an Apple Watch to open a door at a W Hotel, using Bluetooth. Starwood (W Hotel’s owner), Hilton, and other major chains are currently testing the technology at various properties, but it’s already being implemented in hotels like the Cromwell in Las Vegas, and Fontainebleu in Miami.
The Peninsula is an ultra-luxurious hotel group, and while many of its services may seem old-world, it is outfitting its rooms with custom tablets that let guests control nearly everything about their experience. According to HotelChatter, Peninsula says each room has more than a mile of wiring. That allows each room to be outfitted with not one, but three tablets that let you adjust room temperature, access guest services like room service and housekeeping, control the television (or watch TV on the tablet), check flight information, turn on lighting, set curtains to open and close, and function as a VoIP telephone. There are even preset mood-lighting options.
Such a system is also being used at the Aria in Las Vegas. While it isn’t as sophisticated as the Peninsula’s, the 7-inch tablet next to every bed handles essentially the same functions.
For a less expensive alternative, there’s citizenM. The Dutch hotel group recently set up shop in New York City, and each room comes with a tablet, called MoonPad, that controls the TV, blinds, climate control, and lighting. The tablet also functions as an entertainment and Web-surfing device.
At the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C., the housekeeping staff uses iPod Touches to see which rooms need attention, and respond to guests’ requests. It allows the hotel’s housekeeping staff to be more efficient and to know what rooms are occupied or vacated. While guests won’t see this technology in play, it does mean getting fresh towels quicker. Marriott told us this is all possible thanks to the hotel’s fiber-optic network. Doubletree’s theWit also has a similar infrastructure (see below).
Nothing but robots
If there’s one country that isn’t afraid of robot domination, it’s Japan. Huis Ten Bosch, a European-styled theme park, is planning a hotel that’s not only high-tech, but staffed by robots. The Henn-na Hotel (translation: Strange Hotel) will feature human-like robot receptionists that converse in natural language; robots even handle bellhop and custodial duties. There will be human employees, but the company’s president told CNN that he hopes robots will eventually operate 90 percent of the property. Other techie features include facial-recognition to unlock doors, a climate system that automatically adjusts temperature based on body heat, solar power, and tablet-based virtual concierge.
Hotel as research laboratory
At NH Hotel’s Madrid Eurobuilding in Spain, several rooms are designated as “Living Labs.” No, there won’t be any surgery or testing going on, but it’s the name NH gives to these high-tech rooms. They have tablets that connect you with hotel staff, ultra-high-definition TVs, wireless charging, ambient lighting, high-speed Wi-Fi, and more. But NH Hotels is treating these rooms as incubators, where it will study future hospitality tech, in collaboration with tech entrepreneurs.
When you step into Aloft’s Silicon Valley property, don’t be surprised if you’re greeted by a 3-foot, R2-D2-like robot named A.L.O. The robot is the first of several “Botlrs” (robot butler) that Starwood-owned Aloft is testing. Besides making guests smile, it can deliver items to guestrooms and assist guests with questions. A.L.O. can also navigate the property on its own, including riding the elevator. A.L.O. operates off the hotel’s Wi-Fi, which it uses to “push” elevator buttons or call guestroom telephones.
At Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, California, the tech isn’t in the rooms, but in the hotel’s house car, a Tesla S P85. The all-electric vehicle is used to shuttle guests from the hotel to the shops, restaurants, or beach. It sure beats the Ford Econoline vans most hotels use.
Nightclub to geek-out in
Besides having an amazing view of the Chicago skyline, the Roof, a club on top of Doubletree’s theWit hotel, features a video wall that looks like something out of Tron. It uses a projector as part of a 3D-mapping installation to create a crazy-awesome light show on a 20 x 12-foot wall.
In the guestrooms, sensors monitor the climate to automatically adjust the temperature. Because the hotel is completely wired, it can deliver loads of information to the IPTV televisions, VoIP phones, and iPod Touches carried by housekeeping staff.
Free international calls
Guests at The Mira in Hong Kong is offered a Samsung Galaxy Note smartphone for making free local and international phone calls, as well as accessing hotel services. The best part is that you can take the phone with you when you exploring the city, and you can continue to make and receive calls while on the go – for free. Mira says the devices are “cloned
to the in-room phones, so you are connected to the hotel even when you’re away.