“Talking” elevators, elevators without ropes which also move horizontally, a moving walkway which speeds up on its own - Max, Multi and Accel are ThyssenKrupp Elevator’s trump cards for urban settings. Andreas Schierenbeck, the German multinational’s CEO, was one of the speakers at the Smart City Expo World Congress (SCEWC), and talked to Smart Cities on the role the company wants to play in this field.
What’s the connection between elevators and smart cities?
I think it’s an obvious connection. Cities consist of buildings and buildings need elevators to really be liveable and I think that’s the connection. But not only elevators- shopping malls, metro stations, etc, need escalators, and in every city, the “last mile” of transportation is always the tricky part. Nobody wants to walk more than 500 metres, from the metro station to their home. And we have products for this kind of situations, such as the Accel moving walkway, which speeds up on its own. So I think we fit in perfectly here [at the SCEWC] discussing what smart cities are and what we can do together.
And what is a smart city in ThyssenKrupp’s view?
For me and ThyssenKrupp, a smart city is a city which views everything in a holistic view, and not just different departments. The city is an experience for those who live there: how they get to work, how safe they are, how convenient life is, and how easy it is to access energy, food, etc, all of this, and well, elevators are also a part of that. Most people don’t notice that they take an elevator. They know they have to catch a plane, a car or a metro, but when they leave their house and step into the elevator, they don’t notice they are in an elevator. Elevators are very close to people and their day-to-day experiences.
How are you incorporating new technology into your products?
We have two or three good examples. One is Max, where we are connecting elevators with the Internet of Things, by installing a small device on top of an elevator cabin which is transmitting data on what the elevator is doing, how “healthy” it is. That information is being stored in a cloud through a wireless connection. We apply machine learning algorithms with out partners at Microsoft, to find out what might go wrong over the following weeks , so we can fix it before it happens. We’re combining 160-year-old technology with 21st century technology, or even 22nd century technology. On the other hand, with our products like Multi or Accel, we are using linear motor technology with magnets to have multiple cabins and elevators without ropes, which is something you usually only see in science fiction, but it’s a necessary solution if we want to build ultra high and save building space.
Are these solutions only suitable for large cities?
Max can be used with any kind of equipment. Accel, for instance, is suitable for any large airport, or to connect two metro stations which are near to each other, say with a 600 metre distance (too long to walk but too short to build another station). Whenever there are over 350 metres this can be a good solution. Multi, we are going to roll it out in high buildings, because it’s a more expensive solution and only pays off in buildings over 300 metres tall.
What are the main challenges facing cities over the next ten years and how can ThyssenKrupp help overcome them?
It depends on what kind of city you have. If it’s a rapidly growing city, like the mega cities in Africa, their challenges are completely different from New York or Shanghai. They share common challenges like safety and security, or having to provide what’s necessary for a comfortable life, but ultimately, transportation, moving people around is the biggest problem these cities have. Urbanization is an unstoppable trend, and it means accommodating people in the available space. This means we are building more densely. If we build more densely, we will have taller buildings and in that case, we have to provide ways for people to get in and out, and to be able to evacuate buildings in case of fires. For example, the first incident at the World Trade Centre, in the early nineties, although nothing really bad happened, it took over four and a half hours to evacuate the building. So if we build higher than 500 or 600 metres, these things will become a challenge.
And aside from buildings?
In the case of metro systems, how dense can we build them? There needs to be some distance between stations, but what kind of environment do we want people to walk in? Nobody wants to walk more than 400 metre, we’re lazy people. We can make a difference on the last mile of the way, which is always a challenge of urban mobility. With Accel or Multi, we can make a change by having a higher level of comfort and liveability. Take the example of New York: in 2010 Columbia University estimated that all New Yorkers working in an office spend over 15 years waiting for an elevator, and after all that waiting, spend only 6 years inside of it. We are waiting double the time that we are using it. If we can cut this down by half, we will make a big difference to the city’s productivity, but also to people’s comfort levels.