Travelers who want something more than an average hotel room are in luck. GE Appliances’ FirstBuild has partnered with 21c Museum Hotels on a design challenge to spur innovation for the “Hotel Room of the Future.”

Designers, makers, engineers, and artists are all invited to submit innovative, functional designs to help create the ultimate hotel. 21c Museum Hotels, known for its signature penguins, has a reputation for being innovative, with edgy and artistic styling dominating the Louisville, KY-based hotel chain’s designs. The flagship 21c Museum Hotel was founded in Louisville in 2006, and there are now hotels open in these cities: Lexington, KY; Cincinnati; Bentonville, AR; Durham, NC; and Oklahoma City. This spring, a new 21c Museum Hotel is slated to open in Nashville.

“It’s great that we get to work with a partner like 21c Museum Hotel because they’re an innovator in their own right. They’re very much a destination here in Louisville,” said Larry Portaro, director of FirstBuild, which is also based in Louisville and is owned by GE Appliances.

VIDEO: Participate in GE Appliances’ FirstBuild’s Hotel Room of the Future design challenge (TechRepublic)

The design challenge will help FirstBuild figure out “how we can apply technology so your home away from home feels a little more homey,” Portaro said.

A few early applicants have focused on energy savings and cooling pillows. The first place winner will receive $2,500, an Opal Nugget Ice Maker, a Paragon Smart Cooking System, and a free night at any 21c location and a $150 food voucher for the hotel.

Craig Greenberg, president of 21c Museum Hotels, said, “The innovation in the hotel room has really been incremental innovation over the past few decades. TV screens have gotten a little flatter, beds have gotten more comfortable, Wi-Fi speeds have gotten faster. But it’s pretty much still the same experience in a hotel room today [as over] the past couple of decades.”

“After getting to know the folks at FirstBuild, we thought, ‘Let’s see what other ideas the rest of the world has about improving and enhancing the hotel experience not just for 21c guests, but for guests in all hotels around the world,” Greenberg said.

SEE: How developers can use FirstBuild to design products for GE Appliances (TechRepublic)

The travel industry is undergoing high-tech changes. Cruise ships are busy adding tech features, such as Carnival’s announcement at CES 2017 about the upcoming machine-learning wearable Ocean Medallion that will be loaded with a passenger’s personal identifying information and act as a payment method, among other things. Royal Caribbean just announced that its Celebrity brand will launch a new ship, the Celebrity Edge, and it will include facial recognition technology to allow guests to board the ship without stopping to show ID. Additionally, the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas is busy adding Amazon Echo units to nearly 5,000 guest rooms. Wynn guests will be able to control room features such as lighting and temperature, as well as opening and closing window drapes and turning on the TV by giving voice commands to Alexa.

Travelers in general are more open to innovative technology because of their willingness to experience new things around the world. This makes them the perfect audience for testing out new concepts.

Greenberg said, “It sounds crazy now but when we first opened in Louisville in 2006, I still remember spending extra money to have flat screen TVs in all of our hotel rooms. Now, they weren’t HDTVs because that was going to be $5,000 or whatever the number was, but we wanted to give our guests an experience that at the time in 2006 most people didn’t have with a flat screen TV.”

VIDEO: Inventive, creative tech products are the lifeblood of FirstBuild (TechRepublic)

Chris Naber, product developer at FirstBuild, said that many of FirstBuild’s existing products could be adapted to a hotel room, such as using the Paragon induction cooking system for room service, to keep chocolate warm for fondue, or the Opal nugget ice maker in a guest room. The competition is open to people throughout the world. They can come into the Louisville FirstBuild facility to hone their ideas, or they can work with them online. “Our focus is taking the best ideas for the community and bringing those to reality. If you don’t live in Louisville you can access us online and we have a co-creation platform,” Naber said.

Entries are being accepted now through April 2, via FirstBuild’s website. Judges include 21c Museum Hotels founder and CEO Steve Wilson, FirstBuild Director Larry Portato, principal for design firm Deborah Berke Partners Terrence Schroeder, Louisville Metro chief of civic innovation Grace Simrall, and others. The winner will be announced in mid-April.

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. GE Appliances’ FirstBuild is partnering with 21c Museum Hotels for a tech design challenge to create a futuristic hotel room.
  2. The design challenge can be found on FirstBuild’s website and it’s open to applicants through April 2.
  3. The travel industry is undergoing a tech revolution with new technology being put in place at various hotels and cruise ships around the world.

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