App controlled smart elevators set to be the new norm in the near future

By thinking out of the box, elevator manufacturers have given a more modern twist to elevator technology.

Elevator constructors are thinking out of the box and not just vertically. While ThyssenKrupp’s new $43 million elevator test tower soars 246 meters (808 ft) the company’s lifts chief has made major inroads in magnetic levitation technology.

Andreas Schierenbeck’s newest elevators, which base themselves on magnetic-levitation technology used in high-speed trains can obviously move up and down, but they can also move sideways inside the tower’s 12 shafts.

The new elevators have been dubbed as the MULTI by ThyssenKrupp. It represents just one way elevator manufacturers are re-imagining the way the 150 year old passenger elevator system works.

Elevator manufacturers ranging from Switzerland’s Schindler, Finland’s Kone and United Technologies’ Otis have all unleashed their inner geek by adding add-ons such as Internet of Things (IoT) capability, remote monitoring and access control to their products.

Clunky buttons are a thin of the past now. They have been replaced by smartphone apps which guide riders through buildings. They can even bar them from visiting off-limit areas.

Even traditional steel cables or ropes have given way to shafts. The new design as showcased by MULTI trims space requirements by an estimated 40%. Deliveries of the new system will begin in 2019 in Asia and the Middle East where urbanisation and cramped quarters are sending buildings even higher.

“Transportation capacity is the name of the game. If you get rid of the ropes, then you’re looking in the right direction,” said Schierenbeck.

Capitalising on a connected world Schindler has added his own spin to the future of this technology. Elevators can now include a broad array of services.

“Why would you only push a button because you have a breakdown?” said Chief Executive Thomas Oetterli. “Why not use the same infrastructure to order something; (takeaway) food or your grocery shopping?”

Oetterli’s myPORT building-access system is designed such that it essentially acts as a digital passport: the system can be accessed by a smartphone app which can double as a virtual bodyguard to navigate spaces, including dimly lit parking garages.

“We’ll keep on the line until you are safely in the elevator. How much would someone be willing to pay for that? A few cents? If you move one billion people a day … that can make a big difference,” said Oetterli.

Schindler has already tested this concept: he has designed a 3-D laboratory in the company’s Swiss headquarters in Ebikon. Wearing special glasses the company’s engineers can now walk inside a virtual elevator and check for design issues before installation.

Costs are paramount

Smart elevators which provide a trouble-free ride however come at a cost. As per Hendrik Hesse, a specialist consultant who advises building owners on the installation / modernisation of new lefts or ageing systems, costs are paramount.

Although innovation in this sector is inevitable, unless costs are affordable, it will take longer for the products to reach the masses.

“It’s always a question of cost,” said Hesse, who previously worked for a leading European lift company. “Building owners want to save money and elevator companies want to earn as much as possible for services they should probably provide free.”

And the latest cutting-edge systems don’t come cheap.

Although ThyssenKrupp has yet to release price projections for the MULTI, but given its space-saving features, it’s price category will fit mostly tall skyscrapers where traditional high-speed elevators can cost upto $600,000 or more.

Smart Elevators

In Switzerland, Roche’s forty one storied Basel skyscraper, produces electricity when elevators brake. The electricity generated is fed back to the building’s grid.

Furthermore, servers running complex sophisticated algorithms can strategically dispatch cars and in the process ensure shorter wait times and fewer trips despite 12,000 daily lift calls in Switzerland’s tallest building.

“In off-peak times, the system removes lifts from the traffic pattern to save energy,” said Markus Woellner, Roche’s project leader for the building.

Elevators are also fitted with IoT capability such that they can collect data and transmit them to the cloud, thus if a door has been designed to open in 1 second but takes 1.2 seconds to open, a technician gets a text message, highlighting a potential problem.

Schindler uses General Electric’s Predix platform, the same system GE uses to monitor jet engines.

While Kone has partnered with IBM’s Watson for its IoT needs, ThyssenKrupp has entered into a pact with Microsoft to connect 180,000 elevators to the cloud by 2018. Otis has partnered with AT&T for wirelessly linking its elevators.

Regardless of the bells and whistles, the main goal remains simple: reduce waiting time and improve efficiency and thus minimise breakdowns.

“If my car didn’t start four to six times a year, I’d probably change it,” ThyssenKrupp’s Schierenbeck said.

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