Technology Lets High-End Hotels Anticipate Guests' Whims


When regulars like Dr. Laurence Wiener check into the Mandarin Oriental in Manhattan, they get more than a smile from the concierge and a mint on their pillow. Dr. Wiener's hotel room knows how warm he likes it -- 68 degrees. It welcomes him with a personal message on his television set. It even loads his most frequently dialed numbers onto the phone.

And the bellhop did not have to do a thing.

At the Mandarin and other high-end hotels, new computer systems that connect individual rooms to network servers can now keep track of guests' preferences and change the room conditions automatically.

These "smart" systems can learn whether a frequent guest likes the lights dimmed, the curtains closed or the room toasty warm. They can also personalize the electronics in the room so that John Coltrane, for instance, greets jazz buffs when they enter their rooms. And sensors in refrigerators alert maids when the minibar is running low on soda.

While much of the underlying technology is not new, it is still rare in private homes because the equipment is expensive, especially the controllers that connect all the devices. But by incorporating such technology into their guest rooms, luxury hotels are starting to provide a glimpse of what networked homes may look like over the next decade.

The backbones of these smart rooms are the data networks that hotels are installing to carry phone calls, video and Internet connections. The networks, for example, make it possible to offer Internet television services that store programs on servers and let guests watch shows on demand (a guest from Chicago could watch a Cubs game in London or Tokyo).

The networks also allow hotels to connect the lights, air-conditioners and other room devices to a central computer so they can be remotely monitored or controlled.

As the price of this technology declines, some homes could start to look like these smart rooms. Already, more than 35 percent of American households have broadband lines, and developers are integrating home servers and high-speed cables into high-end new homes.

In time, appliances linked to such home networks could be programmed to adjust to a homeowner's likes and dislikes. Companies like Crestron already sell controllers that automate and centralize control of electronics and appliances.

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Monty Solomon
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