Office workers in New York City spend a cumulative 5.9 years, per year, in elevators, according to an IBM study. The research showed that NYC office workers spend a further 16.6 years, per year, waiting for those elevators, meaning a cumulative of 22.5 years of potentially productive work time is wasted in the elevator process. NYC topped IBMs list but Los Angeles, Chicago, and Housten weren’t far behind, suggesting that hundreds of hours are lost staring at elevator doors from one side or the other.
Finnish elevator-escalator-door manufacturer, Kone, believes that by introducing new technologies into elevators we can make better use of that time. They see future elevators as “virtual windows,” equipped with voice-activated controls, music-streaming, news-feeding and much more. Through a high-profile service integration partnership, Kone will be enabling it’s DX Class elevators with Amazon’s Alexa, for a broad range of other services. Operational-efficiency and predictive maintenance for elevators have long been part of the smart building environment, but the elevator as-a-service platform is a new idea.
“We’re trying to move from selling equipment to selling services,” Tomio Pihkala, Kone’s executive vice president for new equipment business, said in an interview with VentureBeat. “We are merging the technologies of tomorrow with the buildings of today to put the ‘smart’ into smart buildings. We are changing our business profoundly towards a platform business. This means combining products and services over the lifetime of a building, which is very powerful,” Pihkala continued.
Kone is one of the top elevators solution providers globally, it’s various installations transport one billion people each day. The elevator is a mode of transportation, albeit indoor vertical transportation, so the company took inspiration from the technology being brought into cars and various forms of public transportation. The 17” touchscreen display in the Tesla Model S is essentially a giant tablet where users can access their vehicle systems and their digital lives.
Kone recent announcements regarding the built-in connectivity of their new DX Class elevators highlighted on-screen building systems remote-control features for building owners and authorized operators. Passengers could book meeting rooms, identify empty “hotdesks,” check emails, make calls, or trigger the coffee machine to prepare for their arrival. In addition to tailored news feeds, voice-controlled music selection and various lighting options, such as moving lights that indicate progress to your destination-floor.
Kone also suggests that the large digital display could serve as a “virtual window to the outside world” by displaying a live video feed from the building’s exterior, which could provide a biophilic connection to the outside world. Presumably, this virtual window could display any scene and combine with the motion of the elevator to give the illusion of ascending into the clouds or descending into a beautiful seascape. Fully-LED walls, ceiling, and floor could elevate this illusion to virtual reality experiences.
The average elevator ride is said to last 30 to 60 seconds, which is the introduction to many songs and barely enough time to get anything more than news headlines or read one short email. Furthermore, in the large commercial buildings that might consider this technology, you are rarely alone, begging the questions; who gets to use the display and who would want to access their digital life on a large screen surrounded by strangers. Every passenger already has all those features and more in their personal smartphones and tablets, and they are already the primary way to pass the time in and around elevators.
The platform model being adopted by the automobile industry is becoming increasingly popular but in a personal environment rather than a public one, where you could spend hours rather than seconds. This advanced elevator concept resembles that of the smart fridge, which has struggled to take-off despite being central to our private home environments. Available hotdesks, headlines, breaking news, and weather can be provided by a very basic and non-interactive digital display, as we have had in elevators for decades.
Just as adaptable smart speakers are being preferred to the smart fridge, the smartphone/tablet will be preferred to the interactive elevator in almost all these features. It seems unlikely that a building owner would want to control buildings systems via a panel during their one-minute elevator ride, let alone see the value of passenger control over advertising space. Leaving the virtual window, which despite its biophilic value, is unlikely to convince owners to invest or bother passengers by its absence.
Buildings are getting taller and smarter, however, and as they do the business case for the interactive elevator may rise. Automated features where the building aggregates lighting and news feed preferences of all the passengers in the elevator, for example, seems more promising. And while sound quality can be improved, the concept of “elevator music” is there to ensure none of the passengers has an uncomfortable trip or has to step out just before “the good part” of their favourite song. Like the smart fridge, the interactive elevator may be ahead of its time.
“New technologies give us opportunities to create an integrated and easily adaptable building experience,” added Kone president and CEO Henrik Ehrnrooth. “As buildings evolve, the elevators can also evolve in ways we have not seen before.”