We Need Smart Elevators


elevatorWhen you begin to understand the potential for the Internet of Things (IoT), you view the world a little differently. You find applications that could be drastically improved. One area that I’m shocked that hasn’t caught up yet is the elevator.

If you live or work in building, the process in getting to your floor hasn’t changed much since the introduction of the elevator. While the technology around creating safer elevators has drastically improved.

Thankfully I’m not the only one thinking about it. Time featured a story in Oct. 2015 called “A Big Change Is Coming to Elevators, And It Matters More Than You Think,” which reads like a promotion for ThyssenKrupp’s MAX technology that links elevators to Microsoft’s Azure cloud and toots about efficiency for building operators.

Honestly, it sounds needlessly complex. Today, I walk into a lobby on the ground floor in a building that only has floors above. Replacing that button with a single low-fidelity camera could decrease that time by adding a simple command, “when person is within 10 feet and facing forward, make one elevator come to the ground floor.”

An even smarter application might be able to recognize a visually impaired person with a white cane, a person with crutches, a walker or a wheelchair and enhance that rider’s experience by allowing for a few extra seconds to exit the elevator.

As a former Bostonian, I grew up with the ideas of “four corners,” where the first four people to enter an elevator find a respective corner and “own it.” Yet, elevator buttons are in one of those corners. A smart elevator might simply ask passengers, “Floor, please?” With passengers entering from other floors, it would simply ask again. A panel might show which floors have already been selected. Sounds like Star Trek right? It is. And Star Trek first aired in 1964. This smart elevator isn’t a new concept.

Smart Elevators might also want to employ well-used and off-the-shelf camera technology to serve a variety of needs. For instance, facial recognition software might unlock floors that require certain approval instead of the leaning through an elevator crowd to swipe an access code. Such an application could also help those facing medical emergencies since there are far too many conditions where a person is unable to hit the Help or Alert button. A Smart Elevator might have an application where it sees a person on the floor of the elevator, connects that person with a 911 service as well as property staff to not only get help but bring that person to a floor where they could receive more immediate attention. With situations such as heart attacks, seconds are crucial and smarter elevators really could save lives.

Smart elevators could also be used for safety as well. During fire drills, when people are asked to take the stairs, elevators could be programmed to quickly return to their base floor for safety. And while it would take some approval, a smart elevator might remember floors where passengers with mobility issues are located and remain open for those people to get them to safety if they can’t use the stairs.

Such features should not require new elevators since the cost would far too prohibited. Upgrading existing elevators would still incur some expense but the benefits would help increase efficiency, safety and convenience.

Finally, smart elevators could easily end “elevator music” with something as simple as nature sounds, daily building activity updates, breaking news or a variety of different versions of radio-friendly music.

photo credit: at the LACMA via photopin (license)

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