Source: Starwood Hotels and Resorts

You Can Now Chat With Your Hotel Room, and It's Only Going to Get Better

When talking hotel rooms are no longer a thing of the future, what’s left to anticipate? A lot.

Last Wednesday, Starwood’s tech-centric hotel brand, Aloft, unveiled its top-secret “Project Jetson.” Now, for the first time, hotel guests can talk to their rooms, thanks to the help of Apple’s ubiquitous voice-powered assistant, Siri.

An Aloft guest teaches Siri to recognize her voice via the in-room iPad.
An Aloft guest teaches Siri to recognize her voice via the in-room iPad.
Source: Starwood Hotels and Resorts

“Siri, raise the temperature to 68 degrees,” or, “Siri, turn out the bathroom light,” a guest might say—if they were staying at Aloft’s Boston Seaport or Santa Clara locations, where Project Jetson is currently piloting.

Depending on your outlook regarding hospitality, that may seem unnecessary or frivolous—or scarily futuristic. But maybe you’ve already learned first-hand that when most of these functions are embedded on bedside tablet devices, they quickly get buggy with age. Or maybe you’ve gotten into a tightly tucked bed after a long day of meetings, only to find that a light is still on and there’s no way to turn it off remotely. Then you know that Project Jetson isn’t just about technology for technology’s sake; it’s about making your hotel room more intuitive.

The pilot version of Project Jetson is just the foundation for what’s to come, explained Aloft’s Global Brand Manager, Eric Marlo, who has also overseen such cutting edge launches as Aloft’s robotic butler, Botlr, and a first-of-its-kind integration with AppleTV. “We literally launched these [Siri-powered] rooms on Wednesday and we’re already thinking about generations two and three,” he told Bloomberg.  

Botlr, Aloft's robotic butler.
Botlr, Aloft's robotic butler.
Source: Starwood Hotels and Resorts

According to Marlo, Project Jetson has yielded “the world’s first voice-activated guest rooms.” The technology is integrated with a room’s thermostat, sound system, and lighting schemes and is also “tapped into local areas from a GPS perspective,” he said. In other words, you could just as easily ask Siri for local sushi recommendations as you could ask her to blast your “shower karaoke” playlist.

Inside the Aloft Santa Clara, one of the test properties for Project Jetson.
Inside the Aloft Santa Clara, one of the test properties for Project Jetson.
Source: Starwood Hotels and Resorts

But wouldn’t you just want to use your cell phone to look up nearby sushi restaurants? When the question was posed, Marlo laughed; it offered the perfect transition to his expansion plans. By the time Project Jetson 2.0 deploys, he said, you’ll be able to control the entire room by speaking to your iPhone—and not just light and temperature and sound. You could have Siri place a Refuel order, which is Aloft’s not-so-fancy term for room service. If you’re staying at a hotel staffed by a Botlr, you could even get your sandwich and Coke delivered by an R2-D2 lookalike. And you could also program “triggers,” or preset preferences, to automatically unfold throughout the day.

The Refuel café at Aloft Santa Barbara. Soon, Siri might help you order room service from its grab-and-go menu.
The Refuel café at Aloft Santa Barbara. Soon, Siri might help you order room service from its grab-and-go menu.
Source: Starwood Hotels and Resorts

Imagine, for instance, that you have a hard time sleeping on the road. With these so-called “triggers,” you could teach your room to dim the lights at 10 p.m., play some slow-tempo music from your “relax” playlist, or even start streaming an episode of Planet Earth on the television. Come morning, you could be roused from your slumber by a separate trigger that could gradually turn on the lights at 6 a.m. and launch a soundtrack of chirping birds. 

In Project Jetson 3.0, Marlo said, you’ll be able to program different versions of your preferences—one set for business trips, one for family vacations, and one for a weekend with friends, for instance. In Marlo’s ideal world, you could select your trip personality through the Starwood Preferred Guest app and trigger your settings from the second you open your door with Starwood’s keyless, Bluetooth-activated lock technology. The number of features you could customize for each of those profiles would be practically limitless, too. “It really becomes this living and breathing thing. As technology continues to develop, we can continue to build this out,” he said, referring to the rapid growth of the connected home sector.

Inside a voice-activated room at the Aloft Santa Clara.
Inside a voice-activated room at the Aloft Santa Clara.
Source: Starwood Hotels and Resorts

Executing the complete vision requires some behind-the-scenes magic. First, there’s guest awareness—which Marlo will soon start to address by including messaging on guests’ reservation confirmations. Then there’s the issue of rolling out the program to more Aloft properties, which requires new hotels to invest in huge Wi-Fi bandwidth and many existing hotels to upgrade their systems. (As for a rollout to Starwood’s top-tier brands, such as Luxury Collection or St. Regis? Marlo said it’s “always a possibility.”

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is moving the technology onto guests’ phones. “We need to find a way to get this to all communicate together,” said Marlo, explaining that the SPG Keyless technology uses Bluetooth connections, while Siri is powered by Wi-Fi. There’s no timeline in place for all this, but he remained optimistic that it would all happen eventually. “We’ve been through many hoops before and we keep breaking through them, so I’m confident we’ll get there.” For reference, though, it took upwards of two years for Marlo and his team to get voice technology to evolve from idea to actual product.

You can also control your room via iPad at many Aloft properties.
You can also control your room via iPad at many Aloft properties.
Source: Starwood Hotels and Resorts

It’s worth noting that while Aloft offers Android alternatives to its Apple TV amenities, Project Jetson is not currently compatible with “OK Google,” Amazon’s Alexa, or any other voice assistant. (One hotel in Stockholm, the Clarion Hotel Amaranten, just launched a trial that's similar to Project Jetson, using Amazon's Alexa.) Marlo said guests without iPhones will always be able to access the technology via an in-room iPad and added that the program would evolve to accommodate Android users.

In the meantime, Marlo is hard at work on other forward-looking projects. For one thing, he’s developing smart floor sensors that could turn on the bathroom light when you get out of bed at night or alert room service to pick up the used tray you left outside. “We love to be on the cutting edge of everything,” he said. “We truly operate like a startup, throwing a lot of ideas at the wall to see what sticks.”

The bar at Aloft's Boston Seaport location.
The bar at Aloft's Boston Seaport location.
Source: Starwood Hotels and Resorts

Also on his radar: mirrors with built-in touchscreen displays that could show you your e-mail or stock tickers while you’re getting ready. Those are currently in pilot mode at Aloft’s sister brand, Element. Find the first ones at the brand’s Newark, N.J., location.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE