All-digital hotel opens in Texas

IoT functionality, and sustainable and efficient building operations are on display at The Sinclair in Fort Worth, Texas.

Video: Business travelers want a tech-savvy hotel room

When Farukh Aslam purchased The Sinclair, a historic building in downtown Fort Worth, Texas that was built in 1929, he starting asking himself questions about how he could take such an old structure whose aesthetics had changed over time–but was still "dumb" at its core, and make all of its endpoints smart through technology.

The building still had the original infrastructure and except for some LED lights, not much else had changed, recalled Aslam, CEO and president of Sinclair Holdings LLC, which owns The Sinclair.  

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"I've owned commercial real estate for 25 years and once a year, a fire alarm goes off, and thankfully, it's been [a false alarm]," he said. That got Aslam thinking about "why isn't that device smart enough to know there's no fire, it shouldn't be tripping and sending fire trucks, and firefighters that have to knock on every door. It's very cumbersome."

The result is The Sinclair, Autograph Collection, which is being hailed as the first all-digital hotel. The Sinclair is focused on providing smart, sustainable, and efficient building operations and "personalized experiences for its guests" in all 164 rooms through innovative technologies.

Seeing the light

Light bulbs in the hotel rooms are embedded with an IP address and can be programmed to dim if no one is in the room, Aslam said. The bulbs can also tell how much power is being consumed in real time--as well as over the past year, and when one has gone out, it informs someone, he said.
Typically, an LED light provides 50,00 hours of usage, Aslam said. A built-in sensor can now inform maintenance when that light has reached 3,000 hours, for example, based on how many hours it has been burning, he said. "We've taken this concept into multiple areas in The Sinclair." The hotel has more than 6,000 lights that are all connected to a network, so power doesn't come from traditional electrical panels, but rather digital building switches, he said.

Sustainability was also important to Aslam. "We're seeing power consumption savings in the 40% range in the whole building,'' and lighting is just one aspect, he said.

The window treatments in the guest rooms are all motorized so a guest can push a button to move them apart or close them. The air conditioning system "is state of the art'' and uses a technology called variable refrigerant flow (VRF).


Image: The Sinclair

"When you stay in the hotel, and you want your room to be 76 degrees, and your neighbor wants it colder…it takes the heat out of the neighboring room and gives it to your room without spending a lot of energy,'' Aslam said. The system pulls hot air out to make one room cooler and redistributes it to another room.

The Sinclair, which was previously an office building, was not initially designed to be a digitally-enabled hotel. "We started working on the project in 2014 as just another project," he said. But Aslam was curious to know what the cost would be to add digital features and decided to conduct a pilot by deploying low-voltage, digitally connected lighting at another historic building he owns next door to the hotel called the Sanger Brothers Building.

"The results were so encouraging that I approached Marriott about doing the same lighting in an Autograph hotel,'' a boutique luxury hotel brand within the Marriott brand, he said. "So we started changing our drawing and used an in-house team of architects, engineers, and computer programmers to redo the electrical infrastructure, replacing all lighting with low-voltage lighting."

Surprisingly, he said, "it did not cost me a dollar more to do this smart building solution" because Aslam used an in-house team, which spent two years on the project. The cost to renovate The Sinclair was almost $60 million, he said.

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Additional smart amenities

All rooms also have touch screens on the wall to turn lights on and off, and guests have the option of selecting from 15 different light colors.

An electric mirror supplies PoE (Power over Ethernet)-powered LED mirrors, which guests can use to read news, listen to music, get weather updates, and connect to guest services.

Besides controlling room temperature and lighting, hotel guests can also configure their shower preferences by tapping a digital screen.

Internet of Things (IoT) sinks from SinkTech are used in the hotel restaurant to regulate water temperature, soap, and sanitizer levels.


Image: The Sinclair

Hotel staff benefits from digital upgrades

Hotel staff can use mobile devices to connect to reservation and property management software anywhere on the premises, increasing productivity and customer service. Wireless point of sale systems enable food and drink sales anywhere on the property.

The Sinclair has partnered with Intel and uses its IoT gateway to combine the data with edge computing and management capabilities. It also uses Intel's Unite wireless display and collaboration technology to power the hotel's meeting spaces.

The Sinclair also uses Cisco's Merakis smart Wi-Fi cloud networking offering for location-based data analytics and personalized guest messaging. Among its other tech features, The Sinclair claims to be "the first building in the world to replace a diesel generator and backup power source with a lithium ion battery pack."

Now, he is in the throes of developing banquet space for The Sinclair in the Sanger building. "We're demonstrating that you don't have to be a brand new building" to be smart, Aslam said. "I'm very limited in what I can do to the façades and other historic elements, but I can make them energy efficient.'' 

The combination of smart lighting and high-efficiency air conditioning has already generated almost 40% in energy consumption savings since The Sinclair opened in November 2019, according to Aslam.

Now, he is in the throes of developing banquet space for The Sinclair in the Sanger building. "We're demonstrating that you don't have to be a brand new building" to be smart, Aslam said. "I'm very limited in what I can do to the façades and other historic elements, but I can make them energy efficient.'' 

Rooms at The Sinclair start at $272 a night.

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Image: The Sinclair