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The Hotel Room of the Future

No need to read up on "smart" cards, keys that do more than merely open the door. NTRU Cryptosystems Inc., an encryption company based in Burlington, Massachusetts, recently created the security feature for a chip-equipped key card that uses radio waves to send information. Flash it in front of your door to enter, or just keep it in your pocket and aim. The same key could also be linked to your credit card and used to pay for dinner—no need to sign anything—and even assist with luggage transfer: Place the card in your bag, and when the luggage comes off the conveyor belt the airline can retrieve it, scan it, and send it straight to your hotel.

Ultimately, the card might also contain a biometric record of your face, a feature that's already being used in other industries. Virginia-based EyeTicket is testing iris-recognition technology at London's Heathrow airport that lets frequent travelers on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic bypass long immigration lines. In seconds, the machine can verify your identity. Hotels could use the technology for security and to make guests' lives easier: eventually, you could unlock your door just by looking at it.

Another way to get in might be by "beaming" your PDA at the lock, which would be precoded for your arrival. Remote check-in via PDA is now being implemented at a handful of hotels, including the Muse and the Bryant Park Hotel, both in New York. PDA-toting staffers check you in curbside and issue you a key card on your way upstairs, then check you out the same way. In the future, you could check yourself in using your own handheld—even ordering room service while you're at it.

Motion detectors might soon become commonplace as well, meaning no more pesky mid-shower knocks at the door. The same infrared sensor that tells housekeeping whether you're in your room can also tell the digital thermostat—accurate to within half a degree—to turn on and off. Last year, Connecticut-based inncom introduced its Ethernet INNweb system, which not only controls a room's climate but also provides high-speed Internet access and digital movies on demand.

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