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Is your hotel room leaving the lights on for you? Maybe not for long…

2009 November 5
by admin; 10,053 views

the lights are on but nobody's homeAt first, this seemed like a pretty cool application of occupancy-based energy consumption control: a company called ILLUMRA has launched a Wireless Key Card Reader, ideally suited for hotel room use, that turns off HVAC and lighting controls in an unoccupied room. Apparently the card reader doesn’t need wires or batteries, and can be installed in minutes with minimal downtime.

But here’s what I didn’t quite understand when I read about this product earlier today: the ILLUMRA Key Card Reader isn’t the same card reader you’d use to gain entry into the hotel room. In other words, you don’t unlock the door and the room automagically lights up and cranks on your heat to a comfy, I-don’t-keep-it-this-warm-at-home 72° F. Instead, it’s a separate gadget on your hotel room wall.

From the company’s product data sheet:

When entering a room, a guest inserts a key card to make power available to selected devices. When leaving, the guest removes the card to set devices in the room to an energy-saving “unoccupied” mode. With seven code combinations available, key cards can be customized to offer additional functionality, giving the ILLUMRA Key Card Reader the ability to activate different sets of appliances based on the preferences of the building manager.

illumra wireless key card readerI feel a bit conflicted about this, because while I’m certainly a big fan of applying efficient wireless controls to the benefit of energy conservation, I’m confused by the usability of this product. For example:

  • Now when I go to a hotel room, I’ve got to keep track of a room key card and an occupancy key card? How confusing is that?
  • If the key card reader only registers the room as “unoccupied” when I remove the card, its very function depends on me – the customer/traveler – to complete an additional action that I’m not necessarily prone to do. Aren’t the chances just as likely that visitors will simply leave the card reader alone for their whole stay and thereby remove its usefulness?
  • The product’s web page suggests that different key cards could have different functionalities depending on “guests selecting optional amenities”. So does that mean that someone staying in a premium room gets to set their thermostat at any level they want, but those in the economy rooms (i.e., me) are subject to the preferences of the building manager?
  • Wouldn’t some decent occupancy sensors essentially do this same job, without depending on the hotel’s customers to activate them?

Admittedly, it’s tough and perhaps unfair of me to speculate about the product’s complete functionality without seeing it work and talking to others more familiar with its application. In fact, I’d be interested to do so, because it does suggest an intriguing way to use building controls toward the preservation of energy consumption.

But I think that when it comes to travel and hospitality consumers, a kind of entitlement mentality prevails. When we travel, we expect – almost above all else – customer service tailored to fulfilling our needs. We want our towels clean and our pillows fluffed and our meals delivered hot and quickly. Placing the responsibility on the consumer to assist in his home-away-from-home’s desire to save money on energy – or perhaps charging him a premium rate so that he doesn’t have to – stretches the expectation of how that traveler chooses to travel.


2 Responses leave one →
  1. Tom Bodett permalink
    November 5, 2009

    Still leaving the lights on for you. You won’t find the Illumra installed at your Motel 6

    • admin permalink*
      November 5, 2009

      I’m guessing that that might not actually be you, Mr. Bodett, but if it is I hope you won’t mind my good-natured hijacking of your fine company’s positioning statement! 🙂

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