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Aria: The Automated Hotel

Several months ago I spent a couple of nights at the Aria, in Las Vegas. One of the reasons was to experience their well-touted automated hotel rooms.

The rooms use Control4-based automation systems to provide a quite sophisticated, futuristic experience. (PDF link to Control4's press info.) When you enter the room for the first time, it springs to life. The lights gently turn on, the curtains open, and the large HD television turns on to the room's control panel, which is adorned with your name. If you're expecting this to happen, as I was (no thanks to the front desk staff; I did my homework before booking the room), it's a neat experience. If you're not expecting it, I imagine it's a little disconcerting.

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Despite my expertise with home automation, I found many aspects of the system to be frustrating. There were many switches and settings that did things I didn't understand, and turning off the lights when leaving the room just wasn't, well, very simple. Fortunately, thanks to the Control4 system, you can use everything the old fashioned way (that is, by turning the switches) and not cause havoc with the system.

Next to the bed was a small controller device, which you can see pictured in the bedside documentation sheet (pdf link). Changing the brightness on the screen is a must, as it is eye-scorchingly bright in the dark. Sadly, the user interface of the controller is not very intuitive, and the number of function is overwhelming, as evidenced by all the "notes" on the instructions. Frankly, I'm skeptical that very many real people are interested in reading documentation about how to use the system, especially when the pleasures of Las Vegas are beckoning. Also, anyone who has used an iPhone or iPad will want to toss the controller across the room. Not just for the bad design, but for the finicky and miserable touch screen.

One interesting function I found on the controller was apparently intended for the house keeping crew. There were macro buttons that set the curtains, lighting level, and TV channel/volume for the morning cleaning session, and for the evening turn-down service. (Yes, it's a fancy-schmancy hotel.)

All of the functions of the controller are duplicated on the TV, but for me the IR response was so slow that it was more frustrating than the crappy touchscreen controller. But on the day of our departure, I did enjoy having in-room access to the airport's schedule.

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I also rather enjoyed the alarm clock function, which opens the curtains and tunes the TV to the music or show of your choice. That's something I could certainly get used to.

I took the time to poke around into the mechanics of the system. Everything is hard-wired. This certainly explains why the room was quick to respond to commands; as well as being very reliable. Aside from the clunkiness of the controllers, I was impressed with how it functioned. The installers did a great job of hiding everything too, unless you looked behind the TV and found the usual sprawl of cables and extra electronics.

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Given the intimidation and frustration that I experienced--and remember that I had specifically requested an automated room--I doubt that many visitors take advantage of, or barely use, the extensive functions that have been implemented. I'm sure the house keeping staff must appreciate the quick reset, however.

For a contrasting view of another automation enthusiast, see this site.

If you've stayed in one of these rooms at the Aria and experienced the system, please do leave a comment and let the rest of us know your impressions.

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