• March 1, 2012
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Voice Could Open New Doors for Hotels

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In the story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Ali Baba gains access to a cave where thieves have stored their plunder using the command "Open Sesame." The same command might one day be used by hotel guests to gain access to their rooms.

Open Sesame is a high-tech voice biometrics application from VoiceTrust. It was designed to replace keys and swipe cards in locations where door access is a priority, including hotels, as well as government facilities, labs, hospitals, and corporate offices.

To create and register their voiceprints, hotel guests would need to repeat a phrase four times using a secure phone line at the check-in counter. The voiceprint can be centrally hosted or stored locally, according to Herman Geupel, managing director of VoiceTrust's office in Munich.

After the guest has created his voice file, he needs only to speak the phrase once when he arrives at his room and the door opens.

"They have to say the same thing all the time because this is text-dependent," Geupel says.

Beyond door locks, the same technology could also be applied to in-room safes, the little lock boxes where hotel guests can store their cash, wallets, ID, and electronic gadgets while they are out seeing the sights. The only requirement is that the safes would have to be connected to the same local area network as the door locks, Geupel points out.

And for large hotel chains with properties all over the world, a guest's voiceprint could be stored once and used anywhere. "An Internet connection can make the voiceprint available to any facility and door across a network," he adds.

"If [a guest] enrolled in New York, he can use it in Berlin or Paris or Rome," says Detlev Artelt, CEO of aixvox, a German speech and unified communications consulting firm that worked with VoiceTrust on a pilot of the application at a North African hotel.

In solutions such as this, "the business case is clear," Artelt says. "There's no lock, so you don't need to carry anything."

And for the hotels, the cost is more or less the same as the widely used key card systems, "but you don't have the added expense of lost keys or cards," Artelt says.

And though the use case hasn't been well-established just yet, Judith Markowitz, president of J. Markowitz Consultants, a firm specializing in voice security applications, says voice biometrics for door access has potential. "It could work in hotels," she says. "They'd have to control for noise, and the threshold needs to be set for high security, but if they take care of that, it has a decent shot of working."

She says similar uses of the technology have proven effective in residences for senior citizens.

But it's not just a voice that can have this power. Many properties have already begun implementing door security applications that use fingerprint or retinal scans for access. And new technology has been introduced and will soon be test-marketed in Las Vegas hotels that allows guests to use their cell phones to unlock their hotel room doors. A French company called OpenWays has come up with a system in which a computer generates a unique series of tones that is sent to a guest's mobile device. When the tone is played outside the designated guest room, a sensor incorporated into the locking system identifies the tone and unlocks the door. Phones need no new software or hardware to operate the system.

OpenWays is developing an iPhone app that would allow users to store the tone in advance. This way, guests could check into their hotel online, get the necessary key tones, and go directly to their rooms, bypassing check-in.

"Mobility has become the ultimate self-service technology, and as long as a hotel guest has a mobile phone, he or she already has a secure room key," says Pascal Metivier, OpenWays founder and CEO, in a statement. "Simply put, Mobile Key by OpenWays is a hotel front-desk bypass solution that lands guests in rooms quicker through the use of any cell phone."

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