The Greatest HIT
As founding director of the Hospitality Innovation and Technology (HIT) Lab, Ajay
Aluri wants to change the perception of the hospitality and tourism world. Many
see it as an industry not riding the cutting edge of innovation with low-paying
jobs and unskilled workers.
Not so fast.
When you think of making dinner reservations, purchasing tickets for entertainment
or checking in to a hotel, those actions are technology-driven, Aluri said.
“That’s where I come in,” said Aluri, also an associate professor of hospitality
and tourism. “I have backgrounds in computer science, international business and
hospitality, and all of those things blend together. However, I think the hospitality
industry is lagging behind in the technology.”
Theme parks, casinos and the gaming industry all contribute to hospitality and tourism,
and when COVID-19 hit the United States, these services were severely altered and
remain so to this day. With hotels, restaurants, entertainment and any normal semblance
of luxury and recreation on hold, 2020 turned out to an opportune year for the
industry to play catch up.
What could Aluri and his students do to help the industry plow ahead?
As the threat of contracting the virus became all too real, Aluri and his students
in the HIT Lab developed a copper touch tool with antiviral and antibacterial qualities.
It took 25 designs and countless hours of 3D printing, but the team got a final
design down pat. It’s called Hygenkey – a perfect tool to carry around, especially
if traveling or pushing elevator buttons and pulling doors in public places like
hotels. Hygenkey touch tools are touchscreen compatible and users can minimize
contact with kiosk and touchscreen devices.
“There are a lot of touch tools out there that are either brass, plastic or stainless
steel,” Aluri said. “I hate to say it but many of these are on the market to make
money off the fear of COVID. We never wanted to do that. So at the HIT Lab, we
researched copper and found that COVID-19 stayed on it for less than four hours,
whereas on stainless steel and plastic, it could be on there for up to five days.”
Hygenkey has been tested by partners in WVU Medicine, Marriot Morgantown and Visit
Mountaineer Country, to name a few, Aluri said.
It also has an ergonomic two-finger handle design, unlike other tools on the market.
This means it’s sturdier and more versatile than other tools that struggle or can’t
open heavy, commercial doors.
More impressive is that students helped developed the tool, Aluri said. Each semester,
up to 25 students volunteer to work in the HIT Lab, and it’s open to students from