The Digital Hotel Uses IoT to Create the Ultimate Guest Experience

The refurbished Sinclair Hotel gives new meaning to embedded IoT. Technology is built into every aspect of the hotel from check-in to room amenities to hotel dining. IoT and Power Over Ethernet (PoE) are making the Sinclair more efficient, drastically reducing power costs. Now, the automation has even more value in virus defense, as its technology profile allows the hotel to eliminate dozens of touchpoints when it reopens later this year. 

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Image credit: Sinclair Holdings LLC

 

Staying at the Sinclair Hotel is like taking a step back in time, while putting a foot in the future. Originally built in 1930 to house the Sinclair Oil Company offices, the Sinclair Building in Fort Worth, TX, was designed to reflect the best of the Art Deco movement and has been an architectural icon in the city ever since. In 2015, the Sinclair Building began a multi-year transformation into a high-end hotel. It is now part of the Marriott’s Autograph Collection, which consists of a curated collection of 180 boutique hotels located in cities around the world. 

Today, the Sinclair Hotel proudly maintains its distinctive ZigZag Moderne façade and interior art deco flourishes, but that’s about all that is reminiscent of the 1930s. Behind the facade and flourishes, the Sinclair Hotel is bursting with IoT technologies, changing how nearly every aspect of the hotel operates.

“We have a lot of firsts at this hotel,” says John Klukan, director of sales and marketing at Marriott. Each of the 164 rooms is equipped with network-sensing Bluetooth mesh technology to allow guests to set preferences for lighting, shades, curtains, and locks via a touch screen. The in-room sensors determine when you—and any guests—are in the room and automatically adjusts to your preferences.

Internet of things (IoT) solutions built with Intel® technology is woven throughout the DNA of The Sinclair. Intel-based technologies enable the hotel from the smart features to the reservation systems, point of sale, networking infrastructure back office, and guest services, such as mobile key and wireless charging. Intel is also providing NUCs to support the gateways, controllers, data aggregation and edge computing.

Technology-driven Amenities

Touchscreens are everywhere. Curtains and shades can be opened with the touch of a screen. A touchscreen in the shower allows each guest to control the water temperature, water pressure, lighting, and audio while showering. Bathroom lights can not only be dimmed, the color can change from white to red to violet to any color in between. Electric smart mirrors feature a touchscreen that allows guests to check the weather, read news headlines, or order room service while brushing their teeth.

Image credit: Sinclair Holdings LLC

 

Public spaces are peppered with technology, too. Sinclair is using IoT in the restaurant appliances and sinks to regulate water temperature, soap, and sanitizer levels. Even the fitness center is pumped up with technology. Stationary bicycles are connected to the power grid; ride for 20 minutes and you’ve added power to the grid—and earned rewards points if you’re a Marriott member. Wireless point-of-sale services allow guests to purchase food or drinks from anywhere on the property. Location-based analytics can answer customer questions or offer drink coupons if a guest is near the bar. 

A Bright Idea, Realized

The Sinclair’s high-tech undertaking started with Farukh Aslam, president and CEO of Sinclair Holdings. Aslam had trouble with an LED lighting system in another building, but no one could identify the source of the problem. He wanted the Sinclair to have a lighting system that didn’t require an electrician or proprietary software. He found a solution in Cisco’s Digital Building Switches, which work with VoltServer’s Digital Electricity Power over Ethernet (PoE) system to replace electricity and power the technology in the rooms.

Each of the hotel’s 2,000 light fixtures, outlets, minibars, and window shades has a unique IP address, so it can be remotely controlled via the internet. If a light goes out anywhere on the property, a notification is sent to staff. The hotel has deployed fiber gigabit passive optical network (GPON) to support high-speed internet access anywhere in the hotel. Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) Mini PCs support the gateways, controllers, data aggregation, and edge computing that keeps the hotel humming.

Post-Pandemic Concerns

Most hotels—especially those more than 20 years old—have a slew of touchpoints that have to be cleaned to prevent virus spread: light switches, doorknobs, wands to open drapes.  “At the Sinclair that’s not the case,” Klukan says. “All the controls for water, the lighting, the drapes, sheers, the screens, the temperature, those are all activated by a touchpad.” 

The shower can be voice activated, so customers can verbally set the shower to medium pressure and 110 degrees, he adds. Room keys at the Sinclair are available on the guest’s iPhone or Android; after check-in, they simply wave the phone over a fob on the door for access to the room.

The high-tech approach allowed the Sinclair to eliminate touchpoints even prior to the current pandemic concerns. The touchpad, which looks like a large iPhone, helps guests control nearly everything in the guestroom. That eliminates 75 to 80 percent of the usual touchpoints in a hotel room, Klukan says. The touchpad technology could be made available on a mobile app, but the company isn’t pursuing that yet, due to cost constraints.

Since the emergence of COVID-19, Marriott has upped its already stringent cleanliness protocol, Klukan notes. The Sinclair hotel already offered contactless check-in and check-out, keyless room entry, and limited housekeeping services. Now the hotel is using sanitation guns to disinfect surfaces. When the Sinclair reopens in September, it will offer contactless room service and provide a door-side drop off for extra towels or other amenities.

Going Green

A side benefit of this tech-laden endeavor is that the Sinclair Hotel is one of the most energy efficient hotels in the world. The PoE system will reduce energy consumption by 35-40 percent. The Department of Energy and other government agencies are monitoring power consumption in the hotel, which could alter how we use and save energy in the future. In addition to internet access and management, the PoE system requires fewer materials, reducing installation and labor costs.

Sinclair Hotel entry

Image credit: Sinclair Holdings LLC

Rather than using diesel generators in case of a power outage, the Sinclair Hotel has batteries. Lots of them. The hotel claims to be the first building to replace a diesel generator and backup power source with a lithium ion battery pack, the LG ESS. The lithium ion battery uses less space, is eco-friendly, and can power the main systems for three hours. “It’s basically a Tesla battery on steroids,” Klukan says.

The Sinclair Hotel is a testament to the capabilities of IoT. The combination of sensors, gateways, and advanced analytics gives guests a highly customizable experience, while improving efficiency and cutting costs for the hotel.