Chameleon: in Sri Lankan hotels now?



Relax: it’s not a random insect. Rather, it’s a system that’ll run your hotel’s room service arm for you. Intrigued? So were we, when we heard tell of this oddly named, 100% Sri Lankan system that completely digitized room service and put it on a screen in your hotel room. No more calls. No more annoyingly late telephone operators or staff. The concept we saw in a short YouTube demo was full of promise: a system where a customer at a hotel could do everything – from ordering something to checking his bill to reserving a plane ticket – by hitting a button on his TV remote.

Intrigued, the Readme team took a day off to visit iPhonik, the birthplace of this so-called Chameleon. There we met Kisan Kirtisinghe, the enthusiastic head of iPhonik, and spent some time learning more about this system.

Chameleon, Kisan explained in great detail, is not a piece of software (as we had previously imagined). It’s a complete hardware-and-software system that is spread throughout the hotel, handling almost every aspect of customer relations and room service. The core explanation is simple: a set-top box in every room, hooked up to the TV and to a central server residing somewhere in the hotel. The box, a thick client, communicates with the Linux-based server to provide the customer with a set of services. TV. Video on demand (movies, anyone?). And, more importantly, a complete digital system for placing and receiving orders through that TV screen. This includes alerts sent to and from the kitchen. Pick whatever you want from the on-screen menu, and Chameleon will take care of the rest – including timing how long the staff take to serve up your order. Room service, digitized: it’s as simple and complex as that.

Given its nature, Chameleon is less of one single product than a whole suite of things working together, like a gigantic watch keeping time.  Developed over one year, with an ICTA grant to help, Chameleon’s was pushed out in April 2012 – and it’s taken off quite well since.  And according to Kisan, it saves a fortune in things like brochures, printed menus, and just as importantly, allows the hotel to micromanage itself to provide better service.  “It’s all about the guest experience,” he says repeatedly. “A good hotel makes the guest feel as if he’s got his money’s worth – and then some. That is what Chameleon does. It strips out all the annoying parts of room service – from the guest’s perspective – and refines the best.”

Chameleon, like Ebay, not only serves customers: it remembers them, keeping track of what they bought so it can recommend similar dishes and delicacies. The whole thing comes with all the perks of digital paper. Menus can be edited whenever needed. Services can be added or taken offline in a flash. Advertisements, promotions – anything the hotel wants can be pushed to every guest in the hotel with minimal hassle.  It’s not a new concept. There ARE and have been excellent foreign alternatives. But this home-grown solution goes toe-to-toe with the best of them and is cheaper. As we were told, iPhonik takes charge of the setup and integration – putting in whatever services the hotel requires. Power management? That, too: with sensors and some hardware, Chameleon can take complete control of lights and heating in the hotel, making sure nothing’s wasted. In fact, after going through the rather lengthy data-dump we received, it looks like Chamelon is the closest thing you can get to an Ai running the hotel.  There’s even an Android app, so if you ever walk into a Chameleon-powered hotel with an Android device, you don’t need that TV screen at all – you’ll get the whole of room service right at your fingertips.

Interested in this next-gen-ish room service? Head over to Amaya next time you’re in Dabulla. Wait a while and you’ll probably see Chameleon in hotel chains closer to home – Pearl City in Bambalapitiya and Benthota’s monolithic Centara Ceysands Resort and Spa, to name some. We’re pretty sure iPhonik has more in the works. 


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