Elevator systems would be more efficient if they treated people like freight, but people have special needs, expectations and, of course, feelings. Modern elevators use sophisticated technologies that not only reduce travel times, but also take user expectations into consideration. How exactly do elevators strike a balance between efficiency and user satisfaction?
Stefan Gerstenmeyer, Senior Engineer Elevator Control at thyssenkrupp Elevator, explains how the overall user experience is improved through the study of how people perceive elevators and interact with them. He is one of the company’s top experts in elevator control systems and a respected research partner of tertiary institutions like the University of Northampton (UK) and the University of Stuttgart (Germany).
In an ideal world, you would never have to wait for an elevator – they would be quick and never crowded. In the real world, however, there are often many people waiting to use elevators, and they all have different destinations, preferences and expectations.
To call most elevators, you only have to push the up or down button. Gerstenmeyer explains how modern elevators let users enter their destination on a touchscreen. That information is fed into a so-called “destination dispatch system” that uses sophisticated algorithms to determine which passengers should ride together and selects the best elevator for the trip.
These algorithms reduce the overall “time to destination”, as Gerstenmeyer says, but not at the cost of stressing users. He provides a good example: “With glass elevator systems, passengers may get upset if they see an elevator go by without stopping, which is sometimes just the most efficient way of doing things.” In these situations, algorithms can be created to limit such occurrences without too great a reduction in system efficiency.
In his research and private observation of elevator users, Gerstenmeyer has noticed some interesting behavior. “Sometimes people get bored if they have to wait too long, and they might wander back over to the control panel and type in a few more destinations – just for fun.” In addition, some people just hop in the next open elevator when they’re going to a popular destination like the lobby or canteen.
Though these tricks may be fun, they can confuse the system. Nevertheless, the algorithms will certainly become more sophisticated over time, and they should learn to cope with deviant behavior. They may even anticipate office workers being afraid to share an elevator with their CEO.
Senior Engineer Elevator Control, thyssenkrupp Elevator
Though it may sound futuristic, there are already some elevators that anticipate user needs. Gerstenmeyer introduces one example: “For the Barcelona Metro, we developed a system that recognizes when a train is approaching so that elevators will be ready and waiting for passengers as they exit the trains.”
Elevators might one day take the needs and wishes of individual travelers into account. With the swipe of a card or smartphone app, people could provide not just their destination, but also personal preferences such as: “I don’t want to ride in a crowded elevator”, “I need more time to get in and out”, or “I need extra space for my wheelchair”. In the future, internal lighting and musical genres can also be automatically adjusted to meet individual user tastes.
Just for fun: have you ever wondered why we always face forward in elevators? Check out this video to see what happens when people face the other way.
Passengers in this video are quite skeptical of their so-called intelligent elevator – and with good reason.