By KEN BELSON
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
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
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
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.