An elevator is one of those technologies that truly seems to look different to a kid. There's a lot to capture the curiosity of a child's imagination. The buttons, inevitably, must be pushed, and their flickering lights add another layer of spectacle to the central, strange experience of rising up in the air and ending up somewhere higher than you began. To a child, it's like flying.
That's the point Roald Dahl tried to make in the children's classic, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, the sequel to the classic chocolate factory story; the elevator carries Mr. Wonka, Charlie, and his grandfather up and out of the factory - which is already a much stranger land than any office - and into a bizarre orbit through outer space.
And of course, the thing about fantasy and fiction is that it’s never as far away from us as we think. It's the same curious spark that gets great scientists and inventors to do what they do - creating and improving objects that end up forming a part of our everyday lives, like elevators.
Okay, so we're way past the invention of an elevator - but that doesn't mean we can forget about the small inventions that make our currently existing technology better.
Like the technology used by two European companies to make elevators smarter and sleeker.
Elevator systems are sold following a very similar business model to that of a video game console: the elevator itself, like an XBox or a PlayStation, is cheap. But video game companies make their money by selling you, well, the games. Elevator systems have historically collected the most revenue from buildings from maintenance costs - in other words, there's a lot of waste taken for granted in standard elevator systems, not just in cost but also in energy.
So, making the whole system streamlined and interconnected from day one can have major implications for companies tasked with outfitting their buildings with elevators.
"The thing about fantasy and fiction is that it's never as far away from us as we think. It's the same curious spark that gets great scientists and inventors to do what they do - creating and improving objects that end up forming a part of our everyday lives, like elevators."
Connecting a whole elevator system means linking up a number of both static and dynamic elements: the buttons both inside the elevator and on each floor; buildings with as many as 20 floors, nearly 600 wires, and that’s not even getting to what's inside each individual elevator cab. Inside the cab, there are lights to manage, emergency systems to think of, fans to keep running, and doors to open and close.
These days, wires are common - standard, even - but increasingly, as buildings head toward IP models, those wires may be disappearing. That's something Echelon has long been aware of, and an enormous part of developing the Industrial Internet of Things means bridging the way from extremely wired systems to more IP-tending ones.
But in the interim, it's possible to get away with using fewer wires than usual with some creative engineering: in fact, just two wires are required to network the elevator floor panels. And the system is already rigged up for remote control and autonomous upgrades. The i.LON® server from Echelon is capable of controlling the elevators from a far.
LonWorks® technology is used in some of these elevator systems, offering communications between these various linked systems, as well as an architecture called Pyxos. LonWorks uses a "flat" peer-to-peer architecture for allowing devices to communicate with one another, while Pyxos runs a "master-slave" architecture, meaning many devices report to one central controller. A new model involves using the two systems together for optimum control. Both systems individually have very high noise immunity, among other advantages, making them ideal for functioning in an elevator shaft, where a signal blockage would be a major snag.
In the end, the system is built for maximum efficiency and major cost savings - and it gets us closer to a world without maintenance at all. It eliminates the need to have a full time maintenance employee on duty at all times for the elevator, and even saves space and contributes to more energy-efficient buildings by eliminating the need for an elevator control office. It's just one step closer to the fantasy of that sleek glassy elevator spiraling right out of a skyscraper and into space.