RFID Tracks Luxury Bed Use at Hotels

By Claire Swedberg

Elite Beds is using AgoraBee RFID-based technology to capture and access sensor data regarding how often leased beds are used, as well as how much pressure hotel guests put on the mattresses, thereby helping its staff to manage maintenance, turning and cleaning services.

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Elite Beds, a Swiss luxury bed company, has developed a hospitality-based leasing model for its mattresses and related products that employs radio frequency identification technology to manage the use and condition of its beds. The system allows Elite Beds to invoice its hotelier customers at a monthly rate that matches the mattresses’ use. After offering the system for several years, the firm is now expanding to hotels throughout Europe, as well as partnering with another mattress maker in Mexico.

The Smart Lease solution enables hotels to use the high-quality beds without making large expenditures of buying the beds outright, says François Pugliese, Elite Beds’ CEO. AgoraBee sensors, built into each mattress, track how much that mattress is used, the pressure it endures and when it was last flipped.

Elite Beds’ François Pugliese

Elite Beds began developing the leasing solution for its customers around 2009, Pugliese says. At the time, the aim was to allow hotels to offer luxury beds for its guests, while paying a monthly (rather than large upfront) cost for those beds. However, if beds are rarely used—for example, during the off-season—Elite wanted to be able to charge customers only for the nights on which each bed was used, and also to understand how much pressure the beds experience under the guests’ weight.

Without RFID technology, the company would have to base its billing simply on trust, and would require hotel managers to record and forward data regarding the number of occupancies per room each month. RFID makes the capturing and collection of such data automatic. Elite Beds began working with AgoraBee, which developed sensors and software to manage sensor data specifically for the hotel’s use case. The system was taken live in 2012.

First, a hotel selects the mattresses it plans to use, along with related products such as box springs and mattress pads. A high-end mattress typically costs only about 50 cents per night, the company reports. Each mattress comes with a built-in AgoraBee active UHF RFID sensor, says Louis Harik, AgoraBee’s head of research and development, which is not visible and tends to be located on the side of the mattress. The mattress has a verticality and motion sensor built in, as well as an RFID transponder. When the mattress is flipped from one side to the other, the verticality sensor detects that change in orientation. If someone lies on the bed, the pressure and motion sensor detects that activity, as well as the amount of strain the mattress is under.

Each sensor is linked to a specific mattress in a particular room, so that Elite Beds can track the use of every mattress and, based on guest activities, schedule maintenance, flipping and disinfection. For billing processes, the system tracks whether or not each bed was used, while for maintenance, Elite Beds benefits from knowing how much activity has taken place; that activity, however, is not linked to a particular guest.

Data is captured on a customized AgoraBee Krypton sensor, which has a battery life of approximately 12 years. The information is then forwarded to an AgoraBee IXCODE receiver via UHF RFID. Typically, hotels require a single receiver on each floor. At smaller hotels, one receiver may be used for the entire facility. That receiver can then send data back to AgoraBee software residing on Elite Beds’ server, via a cellular connection.

Elite Beds views the data and sends an invoice at the end of the month to the hotel, based each bed’s usage rates. In the future, the company plans to share that information with its customers, so that if hotels want to see how much each room has been occupied, they can view that data in the software.

The sensors themselves had to be built and installed in such a way that the metal springs in the mattresses would not interfere with RF transmissions, Harik says. “That required a lot of specialized design work on the part of our engineers,” he states. It was also important to ensure that the sensors could not be felt by those lying on the beds.

To prevent misreads, the software was designed with algorithms to track how a mattress endured pressure, and to identify when a guest was using it. For instance, if a cleaning worker were to sit on a mattress for a few minutes, the system would not bill a guest for that usage.

Thus far, the solution has been installed at about 50 hotels in Switzerland and neighboring countries. That amounts to around 3,000 beds, Pugliese says. “Thanks to this technology,” he explains, “we have been able to double our sales in the hospitality sector” For instance, because hotels do not need to buy the beds outright, they are more likely to lease more beds, and to select those of the highest quality.

“It’s magic,” Pugliese says. “The customer chooses our best product,” then adds related items, such as bases and box springs. “And it’s an important benefit for our customers, since they will have high-end beds. The hotel customers are happier [due to the comfortable beds], and the hotels receive man compliments.”

Elite is now expanding its offering to countries throughout Europe. In addition, it plans to offer the solution to partner companies in areas where Elite does not presently sell beds. This year, the firm has partnered with an unnamed mattress maker in Mexico that will use the Smart Lease system for the hotels to which it provides its beds.