Otis Works To Make Elevators Safe For Covid-19

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Foot markings and a coronavirus social distance reminder are seen on the floor of an elevator in office building in Hollywood, California on July 7, 2020. - The coronavirus pandemic is ravaging parts of the United States and affecting numerous aspects of American life with many office workers continuing to work from home. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

One kink in the return to work since the Covid-19 pandemic began has always been getting there in the first place. Busses and trains were sources of worry since it has been nearly impossible to be socially distant in them. Office buildings have had to empty their lobbies and redirect traffic in their hallways, and the arrangement of offices and workspaces has had to be changed. But the Otis Elevator Company has been working hard to solve the last problem in getting to work – the elevator.

You know that elevators are problematic if only because you’re shut into a tiny room with lots of other people. Getting six feet apart is not always possible. And you have no idea who those other people are. And unfortunately, it’s impossible to make an elevator any larger than it already is.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t update technology that’s over 150 years old. To do that, Otis, the largest maker of passenger elevators in the world, decided to take a look at other aspects of elevator usage to find ways to make them safer.

“We’re changing the way people interact with elevators,” said Chris Smith, vice president, product strategy and marketing for Otis. Smith pointed to a technology that Otis has had for a few years called Compass Destination Dispatching, which means you enter your destination on a keypad near the elevator lobby and the computer that runs the elevators assigns you an elevator. You walk to the assigned elevator and it takes you to the proper floor. There are no floor buttons inside the elevator.

Your Destination Please

The destination information can come from a directory screen, or in some cases, you can enter a room number, as you might when using the system in a hotel. The Compass dispatching software can be programmed to limit the number of people who can use the elevator at any one time.

But that still requires that you touch a keypad or screen. “We’re introducing voice commands,” Smith said, “you just say where you want to go.” Smith said that Otis is testing its voice command elevators at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, and he expects it to be available soon. The Foxwoods elevators are also testing gesture control. The way it works is that you make an upward or downward motion as you approach the elevator so the computer knows which direction you wish to go, and it will then summon an elevator to get you there. The voice command will let you select a specific floor.

There’s an App for That

A smartphone users with the Otis eCall app displayed
The Otis elevator eCall app in use to summon an elevator MATTHEW FERREIRA COURTESY OF OTIS WORLDWIDE CORP

Otis introduced a smartphone app called eCall in Europe in 2016. With the advent of Covid-19 and the need for touch-free operations and social distancing, eCall is now available in the United States. The Otis eCall app is designed to pair with the elevator system in a specific building. You can use it to summon an elevator using your phone, and you can use it to tell the elevator what direction you want to. Building managers can determine who can use eCall and what elevator functions they want to make available.

Building managers can also create custom apps for their buildings that can incorporate eCall as well as additional features such as a building directory and destination information. Smith said that Otis has made an API available for embedding elevator functions in other apps. The app can also be designed to interface with building security systems, making the process of going through security, through turnstiles and taking the elevator a seamless process.

Change is in the Air

Still, even if it’s touch-free, standing on an elevator breathing someone else’s germs in less than ideal. “We have a cab purification fan,” Smith explained. The purification fan includes an ion generator and an ultraviolet lamp to kill germs as they pass through the purifier. Otis has also developed antimicrobial handrails and handrail sanitizers for surfaces that need to be touched.

While it’s impossible to make any elevator completely safe for people during Covid, the steps that Otis is taking go a long way to make getting into your office or other building as safe as possible.

“We do see we need to make these technologies absolutely seamless,” Smith said. “Once Covid fears go away, they’ll be back to pushing buttons. The onus is on us to make sure it’s better than any device.”

Forbes

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