Elevators become a thing in the Internet of Things

max elevator
© ThyssenKrupp

Everybody devotes a lot of ink and pixels to horizontal transportation, to planes, cars, transit and bikes, and surprisingly little to vertical. Yet the numbers of people moved that way is astonishing; There are 12 million semi- automated vertical transportation systems in the world carrying a billion passengers per day. These vertical pods don’t always work either; 190 million hours are lost every year to downtime for maintenance and repairs, and in New York City, a cumulative 16.6 years are spent waiting for them.

These are of course elevators, which have been carrying people with a surprising degree of safety since the 1870s. And since the 1870s they really haven't changed much: mechanical and electrical systems with cabs pulled by cables or pushed by hydraulics. They are safe because of Mr Otis’s invention that stops them from falling, and by regular maintenance mandated by government regulation. But that doesn’t stop them from breaking down and stranding people. That’s why there is a little red button and often a phone to call the elevator repair guy to come pry open the doors.

ThyssenKrupp wants to change that; they are working with Microsoft to connect your lonely little elevator to the cloud. In a vertical version of Minority Report, they will take the data and do predictive analysis, learning from its past to predict its future, to replace components before they fail. They call it MAX.

max diagram© ThyssenKrupp

With tens of thousands of connected elevators and assets collecting data, ThyssenKrupp harnesses the power of Data Driven Maintenance to provide actionable insights into their business. Machine learning and advanced analytics allows the MAX algorithm to know why a fault or breakdown took place in the past and also documents the root cause of the issue. From this analysis, the system can independently make a reasoned prediction as to what will happen to the same component in the future.

They claim that it brings the elevator into the Internet of Things (IoT) and I wondered at first if this wasn't a bit of hyperbole; the Wikipedia definition of the IoT is "the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data." I asked Fabio Speggiorin, Executive VP of R&D, if this meant that connected sensors were now being built to every part of the elevator. (That’s what happening in airplanes and Teslas) He said no, they are taking the data from the elevator controller and storing it on the cloud, analyzing and interpreting it, applying “machine learning” techniques to it. That relieved some people in the room; I was surprised to learn that they were afraid of the IoT, of it being hacked or the data misused, of elevators being hijacked.

And in fact, MAX is connecting thousands of elevators which " generate large amounts of data from diverse locations that is aggregated very quickly" and learning from it, which according to the accepted definition is also a thing in the Internet of Things.

Information on Urbanization© ThyssenKrupp

The data stream, and the machine learning from it, could help to make our buildings more efficient and green; after all, there are also going to be a lot more of them. According to Professor Rory Smith, ThyssenKrupp’s director of strategic developments,

The aviation sector has already established machine learning into its everyday practices, increasing safety and reliability. IoT-based systems will continue to catalyze changes in a number of ways. In buildings for example, air conditioning will be better regulated to prevent temperatures that are too hot or cold. Aside from delivering an optimum environment, this use of IoT data will help make our built environment more environmentally friendly; a key development considering buildings are responsible for 40 percent of the world’s total energy consumption.

Or as TreeHugger founder Graham Hill used to quote Peter Drucker every time he looked at my readership numbers, what gets measured gets managed. In our Internet world we are used to everything getting measured, but the world of buildings and elevators is back in another century, and it is hard to tell which one. ThyssenKrupp claims that this technology might cut elevator downtime in half; If that kind of dramatic improvement could be built into the fabric of all our buildings, then smart tech skeptics like me might have to eat our words.

intensificationLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

What I don't question or disagree with is the inevitability and significance of massive urbanization and the benefits of density. This slide from ThyssenKrupp CEO Andreas Schierenbeck’s presentation summarizes some of the benefits that come from urban intensification: lower energy use per person, lower greenhouse gas production, increased income and productivity. There are many Treehugger readers who will balk at the idea that we should all be living at high density in cities, but that is certainly the way the rest of the world is going, and what is happening in many of the most dynamic and productive cities in North America.

Vertical transportation makes this possible, and MAX will make it less likely that you get stuck in the elevator. Now if only they would apply that tech to the subway system.

Lloyd Alter attended the press conference as a guest of ThyssenKrupp, which paid for his transportation and accommodation.

Tags: Transportation

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