Here's my pet peeve when staying at hotels: I hate having to get up in the middle of the night to adjust the thermostat. But the thing is, I really need the room to be the right temperature to get a good night's sleep. Between a cold room and thick, fluffy blankets, it's easy to be off by a few degrees. Then I'm wide awake, fiddling with various knobs on the wall or calling the receptionist to figure out why it's so darn chilly in here.
This might be more information about my hotel sleeping habits than you ever wanted to know. But Aloft has been carefully listening to feedback such as mine, and they've come up with a solution: a voice-activated room. The company's future-gazing technologists have developed an app that runs on an iPad that controls the room using Apple's Homekit and Siri. It allows guests to change the temperature, switch the lights on and off, and turn on the television by using voice commands. Internally, this effort has been dubbed "Project: Jetson" because, once set up, it really does feel like we're in the hotel room of the future.
Eric Marlo, Aloft's global brand manager, has been spearheading this effort. "We're always thinking about ways to integrate technology into the guest experience," he says. "This seemed like an obvious one. How many times have you come out of a hot shower at your hotel and felt super cold? Now you can adjust the AC just by saying, 'Hey Siri.'"
I had a chance to see a pilot version of this technology in an Aloft property in Boston. When you enter the room, the you receive instructions on the TV screen about how to set up voice activation. When you pick up the iPad, it takes about two minutes to say a few sentences so that Siri is able to recognize your voice. But once the system is set up, you can say "Hey Siri" from anywhere in the room, and she will respond to your commands. (If you decide not to set up the voice activation, you can always just press the start button on the iPad, the way you would do on your iPhone, to speak to Siri.)
The system is already loaded up with several room moods. You can say "reset" for the lights in the room to appear how they would when you first step into the door. If you say "relax," the lights automatically become warmer and less harsh. "Review" turns on the TV screen, while "revive" gently lights up the room for the morning.
On the iPad, you can also sign in to all your media accounts in order to stream movies or listen to music. And Siri also acts like a real concierge, since you can ask her questions about local attractions or nearby bars and restaurants.
This is just the latest initiative to come out of Aloft's tech lab. Other recent inventions include the world's first emoji-only room service menu, which allows you to send a couple of food emojis to the front desk. There's also the Botlr, a robotic butler who is currently employed at Aloft Cupertino and Aloft Silicon Valley. And of course, most hotel rooms can already be opened with your smartphone, without even having to check in.
Aloft is part of the Starwood chain of hotels and resorts that includes Westin, Sheraton, Le Meridien, and St. Regis. "We think of the Aloft group as our innovation lab for the entire Starwood group," says Sarah Downing, Aloft's VP of global guest initiatives. "Aloft guests are interested in new things and are eager to give their feedback when we try out something new. Initiatives then trickle down to all the other hotels."
Aloft will continue to refine the Project: Jetson technology over the next few months, and if it is popular with guests, it will become available to the rest of the Aloft hotel network. However, Downing explains that because Aloft hotels are franchised, owners will have to opt in to set up the iPad technologies in the rooms. This will be much easier with brand new hotels, but the Aloft team says it has set up the technology so it will be easy to incorporate into existing hotels.
But if everything goes according to plan, Starwood hotels hopes to create an entirely futuristic experience. "Imagine unlocking the hotel door with your smartphone, then ringing the front desk to ask for towels, only to have a robot deliver them to your room, then asking Siri where you should go for dinner," Marlo says, with a twinkle in his eye.
It's clear that he's having a ball coming up with these new gizmos.