A new project out of MIT’s Mobile Experience Lab wants to make your next business trip more social. In collaboration with Marriott Hotels, the Lab is testing a prototype of an app called Six Degrees, billed as “a social platform for the hotel lobby.”

According to Marriott Hotels, approximately 80% of their guests are business travelers. As part of the company’s efforts to improve the guest experience for a new generation of younger, tech-savvy patrons, Marriott approached the MIT Lab for help.

“Say you like to jog in the morning and you’re near Central Park, but you don’t want to run alone because you’re in a new city,” says Paul Cahill, SVP of brand management at Marriott Hotels. “How do we curate those experiences and connect people with like interests?”

Guests download the Six Degrees app, which connects to their LinkedIn network and creates a profile based on their professional background and personal interests. A public display in the hotel lobby shows information about guests using Six Degrees at the hotel, as well as upcoming events. For example, the display might show how many guests attended the same university, or work in a certain field.

The third, and perhaps most important part, of Six Degrees is its interactive table. Embedded with RFID nodes, the table can interact with guests’ mobile devices. When people sitting at the same table have common interests, LED lights in matching colors will indicate a connection.

Project leader Amar Boghani explained that encouraging face-to-face interactions with guests is an important element of Six Degrees. “We wanted to support people’s natural inclination to talk, and augment that, not necessarily replace it,” he says. Privacy is also paramount: Six Degrees does not share photos or people’s last names with strangers.

Six Degrees is currently being tested at the Marriott Hotel in Cambridge, near the MIT campus. As the team continues to improve the app, it will be rolled out to additional locations, and eventually will be active in all Marriott locations in the US.

Find more about Six Degrees at the Mobile Media Lab, including a demo of the interactive table.

The Six Degrees app was recently featured in Wired Magazine.

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