The clock is ticking.
For hackers dreaming of the next hospitality technology innovation, the pressure mounts. They’re pitching ideas. Scribbling on whiteboards. Huddling around laptops.
It’s 1:41 p.m. at the Plug and Play campus, a technology incubator in Sunnyvale, Calif. And it’s hard to think of a more appropriate setting for inventing solutions to enhance the guest experience. That’s exactly what participants of HTNG’s inaugural “Hack the Night” Hackathon are doing.
Hotel Technology Next Generation, an industry group dedicated to advancing hospitality solutions, organized the 48-hour event that attracted 13 teams comprising more than 40 hackers who are graduate students, user-interface designers, iOS and Android application developers. As title sponsor, Oracle Hospitality supported the competition, underscoring its strategy to facilitate integration of new technologies and accelerate innovation.
Mid-way through the competition, Anurag Jha, inhaling a sandwich and cookie and refueling with caffeine, is preparing for a brainstorming all-nighter.
“We are stressed a little, but we’re more excited,” says Jha, who was representing a group of University of San Francisco graduate students from Asia, America and Africa – hence their team name, “Triple A.” Jha’s group is focusing on developing a voice technology-based mobile app.
“We’re trying to make it easier for guests to use voice technology to get better service, from requesting pillows or placing their breakfast order or getting a cleaning time,” Jha says. “The idea is to make their life easier, and it allows them to customize the experience hotels give to them. Guests can change their preference in real time, and the hotel will be able to respond accordingly.”
Making a hotel stay feel more like home was the personal motivation for Jose Luis Pacheco’s participation in Hack the Night. And the software engineer for a local community college school district confesses that holing up in an incubation center for the weekend is his kind of fun.
“I like doing hackathons,” he says. “I always think of them as a great opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people and develop some cool innovative ideas.”
Pacheco showed up for the event solo and recruited five teammates on site to tackle what he thinks is a problem with hotel stays: “I’ve always had this experience where whenever I go to a hotel it never feels like home. I’ve always felt that when you go to a hotel it should be an extension of your home.”
Pacheco’s solution focuses on giving guests the ability to set their room environment – for example, temperature and light settings – before their arrival. And his team is considering pairing it with a location-based technology that would alert hotels to a guest’s proximity, enabling staff to prepare amenities to “surprise and delight” guests. “It’s almost Like having an automated concierge,” Pacheco says.
But his team still has a lot of work to do to bring their idea to fruition.
“I’m almost acting like a project manager, entrepreneur, designer and coder all at the same time,” Pacheco says.
Does he expect pulling an all-nighter, too?
“I don’t know,” he says with a nervous laugh. “It’s too early to tell.”