The Russian media is discussing interesting, however local, news: smartphone-controlled elevators are being installed in Moscow’s new buildings. The first building to receive such an elevator was the 17-story apartment block in Nekrasovka. Why is it convenient, how do the new technologies in the elevator industry affect the urban environment and what other wonders does elevator engineering have in store for us?
Urbanization is a contemporary global megatrend. According to the World Bank and the United Nations, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to reach 70% by 2050. Most experts recommend against urban sprawl. It is obvious that mankind will be constantly facing a lack of space and use a simple solution: building taller buildings. High-rises require super reliable, high-tech elevators because a broken elevator in a 9-story building is nothing in comparison with a broken elevator in a 45-story building. Leaders of elevator manufacturing companies claim that their sector speeds up urbanization and the development of the entire civilization. According to Business Stat, in 2016-2010, the sales of elevators in Russia grew by 13.3%, from 38,800 to 44,000 elevators a year.
“The construction market is growing, so demand for new elevators will reach some 60,000 per year in the next five years,” says Vitaly Mutko, general director of the Dom.RF financial development institute in Russia’s housing sector.
The main drivers of growth are the increasing number of old elevators replaced with new ones and the accelerated rate of new housing construction. Nobody wants to use clanking and squeaking elevators, but many dream about contemporary ones like the one at 3 Sochinskaya Street in Nekrasovka. The smart elevator has a microcontroller in its button panel that allows for controlling the elevator using Bluetooth. The technology to receive the signal from the smartphone was developed by Russian-based app SmartAirKey. The system allows for creating an integrated system of access for all residents: all doors, boom barriers and gates open automatically when the user approaches. One needs to install the app, receive the electronic key from the apartment management company and the entrance door will automatically unblock when the user approaches (very convenient when you carry shopping bags in both hands), and the elevator will recognize the user and bring them up to their floor.
“The microcontroller does not interfere with the work of the elevator control station. The elevator operation algorithm is not altered, while the key control system is duplicated — which is totally safe,” explains Anton Artemyev, Director of Shcherbinsky Elevator Building Plant, which has manufactured a smart elevator for the residents of Nekrasovka.
Such elevators are especially relevant during the pandemic: residents do not have to press the buttons and expose themselves to a risk of catching viruses and bacteria. The system receives a signal from the smartphone, detects the passenger via Bluetooth, sends a call signal to the hoist, and opens the door. Seems like a miracle indeed. Yet, elevators in skyscrapers are even smarter.
“People’s lives and comfortable work in high-rise buildings directly depend on elevators; it is important to cut down waiting time, and digital technologies are helpful in this regard. Smart elevators collect data on floors used most often, peak hours and other specifics of passenger traffic, on a constant basis. The system uses this data to control the work of the elevator, with the maximum waiting time of two minutes for a passenger in a skyscraper,” says Kenneth Lindgren, Director General of KONE Russia elevator and escalator manufacturing company.
So this is how it works: as soon as a resident of a building or an employee of an office equipped with a smart elevator enters the underground parking garage or walks through the turnstile while tapping the phone as a pass, the elevator prepares for the passenger to enter and take him to the destination floor.
Like other industrial sectors, the elevator industry is evolving. Today, a quality elevator cannot be built without utilizing innovative technologies and digital systems. According to a forecast by International Data Corporation (IDC), we will see more than 42 bln internet-connected devices in the world by 2025, with 80 zettabytes of generated data. It appears that will be living in an era of hyperconnectivity, and smart elevators are going to be part of this trend.
“Digital technologies are expansively used in smart elevators, particularly, the Internet of Things: special sensors allow for real-time monitoring of operation parameters and performance indicators of the machine. Why is it important? Imagine that each elevator is connected to cloud services on a constant basis. The use of AI technologies will allow us to introduce preventative service systems to identify potential problems before they occur, solve them remotely, or send a specialist to handle them,” says Nader Antar, President, Otis Elevator Co., Northern and Central Europe.
Actually, today we can see many exciting things happening in the elevator manufacturing industry, a seemingly ordinary and utilitarian sector. For instance, Japan’s Hitachi has announced it has built the world’s fastest elevator that can safely travel at a speed of 72 km per hour. The name of the glass Bailong Elevator, the world’s highest outdoor elevator built onto the side of a huge cliff in China’s Wulingyuan area, literally means “Hundred Dragons Elevator” in Chinese; the machine takes passengers to the height of 330 meters. The elevator that connects the lobby with the observation deck in Berlin’s Radisson Blu Hotel is located inside a giant glass aquarium. In Dubai’s Burj Khalifa skyscraper, visitors are transported by double-decker elevators. Sky Tower, a legendary telecommunications tower in the central business district in Auckland, New Zealand, has the elevator only for those who are brave enough to step onto the glass floor. Japan’s Obayashi Corporation plans to build a 36,000 km high space lift by 2050, with people and cargo to travel to the space station in an elevator car via a carbon nanotube pulley at the speed of 200 km per hour. Developers promise that the trip in the space elevator, which will take as long as eight days, will be anything but boring.
Only time will tell. Elevators are indeed becoming increasingly smart, and what seemed like science fiction yesterday may become tomorrow’s reality.
By Natalia Sysoyeva