IoT Nudges Hotel Guests to Limit Shower Length

By Claire Swedberg

A smart showerhead system from French startup Hydrao displays how long guests have been showering, while its Kerlink LoRaWAN IoT network and gateways enable the solution to provide hotels and hostels with data to manage that information.

French Internet of Things (IoT) company  Hydrao has teamed up with  Kerlink to provide an IoT-based smart-shower system for hotels. U.S.-based non-profit hostel company  Hostelling International (HI) USA has adopted the system at several sites to help manage shower use, while Hydrao is marketing the technology for other hotels as they plan to resume operations following the COVID-19 pandemic. The system raises awareness for shower users about their water and power consumption, while enabling facilities to understand user behavior and thereby reduce water use over time.

Hydrao's internal research has found that the solution could save up to 1 million gallons of water a year at a large hotel. The smart shower network employs Hydrao's showerheads and Kerlink's LoRaWAN IoT network. HI USA's overnight guests at some sites can view their water consumption while showering, via a traffic-light-style colored-LED sequence. The showerhead includes sensors that measure temperature, flow and water volume, then transmit data to Kerlink's Wirne iFemtoCell gateways via a LoRaWAN connection.

Eric Burkel

Prior to the pandemic, HI USA hosted more than 1.15 million overnight guests annually at 30 hostels around the country. While water consumption is a concern for hostels and hotels, the energy to heat that water poses a significant cost and carbon footprint. Therefore, the company began working with Hydrao several years ago to create solutions that could manage hot water usage, and it plans to deploy the solution beyond the initial hostels—such as HI in Boston and Richmond, Va., where it is currently installed—as travel to U.S. sites resumes. Hydrao was launched in 2015. The technology startup built its smart showerhead, known as CEREUS, to raise awareness of water consumption.

When informed that a shower is taking too long, most people tend to turn off the water, according to Eric Burkel, the company's co-founder and international strategy and development head. The company sought a technological solution to providing family awareness of how much energy and water is consumed during showers, which represent 40 percent of home water consumption, the company reports. The initial solution was a Bluetooth-connected showerhead for in-home use, designed to educate people about their water consumption during showers. The system not only lights up to display the length of each shower, but also forwards data via Bluetooth to users' smartphones so they can view the information and trends on an app.

In 2019, the company built a solution for hotels, where people typically take longer showers than they do at home. It partnered with Kerlink to create a modification to its showerhead with a long-range transmission to Kerlink's LoRaWAN gateways for data collection by hotel management, says Stephane Dejean, Kerlink's chief marketing officer. The goal, he explains, was to help hotels understand how water is being used, as well as offer incentives or rewards to guests who keep their shower length to a minimum. "The system is intended to provide gamification, a tool that's fun," Burkel says.

Stephane Dejean

The showerheads send their information to the Kerlink gateway via a built-in LoRa radio, Dejean explains. The gateway then forwards that data to a central server, where it is consolidated and interpreted. Prior to this partnership, the use of LoRa technology around water had not been widely deployed for consumer solutions, he notes, but the system is working effectively, even when water is flowing as data is transmitted. Each showerhead comes with built-in sensors to monitor water flow rate, volume and temperature. The device uses energy harvesting, with water flow powering an internal micro-turbine to capture and send sensor data via a LoRa radio also built into the showerhead.

Kerlink's small indoor gateways, installed throughout a hotel or hostel, can capture shower data at a distance. Typically, for instance, a single gateway is deployed per hotel floor. The gateways capture the sensor data along with the unique identifier of the specific showerhead, Dejean says, then forward that information to the cloud-based application via either Wi-Fi or Ethernet. Hydrao's software analyzes the collected data and provides dashboards that hotel management can use to build a baseline for the amount of water and power being consumed, then view changes based on incentive programs or other efforts.

To deploy the system, hotels can simply remove their old showerhead and replace it with the CEREUS model. Visitors can then shower as they always would, and signage explains how the system works. When the shower water is turned on, the showerhead displays a green LED light, which gradually changes to blue, pink and, once the showering time has reached its pre-set maximum time, red. The water and heating, however, continue so that users can shower for as long as they choose.

"There's no police at the other side giving you a ticket if you go red," Burkel states. "It's simply a nudge." That nudge, however, tends to prompt guests to shorten their shower, just like a reminder from hotel management to hang up towels for reuse rather than throw them on the floor for housekeeping tends to change guests' behavior. "It's an empowerment, because you give the information to the user that it's time to get out of the shower, and they can either use that information or not. Most people do."

Typically, Burkel says, the system is set to turn red six minutes after a shower starts. That can be customized with regard to time limits and the color of lights used. The company has conducted studies which identified a pain point that occurs if the length of time to red is too fast. That could lead to defiance, and thus longer showers.

HI USA has deployed the system at its HI Boston site and at several other facilities. HI Boston uses four Kerlink gateways to ensure coverage within its six-floor facility. The savings for facility owners is a decrease in energy costs for heating the water and the water consumption itself, Burkel reports.

While hotels do not track specific guests' behaviors, they could opt to use the shower-length data to offer promotions by donating to a charity on a visitor's behalf, or by providing free beverages or other rewards to those in a room in which water consumption was kept within the requested length of time. As travel resumes later this year, Burkel says, "We're hoping to take the rest of hospitality space by storm."