By Tom Skoulis
Historically, building owners and facility managers had two chief concerns about their elevator systems: reliability and efficiency. They needed reliable vertical transportation with the efficiency to reduce both wait times and energy costs. More recently, security emerged as an area of focus. Recognizing the vulnerability uncontrolled vertical transportation represents, building managers have been implementing controls that limit access to floors to authorized tenants and visitors. This is generally accomplished either by hardwiring card readers to the elevator control board or through software connectors that integrate the elevator control system with the building access system.
In some cases, particularly multi-tenant buildings and hotels, vertical security is implemented at all times across all floors. In others it may only be used on certain floors, such as those occupied by the data center or executive offices, or only during evening hours and weekends. In either case, the additional layer of security helps address an important security gap that exists in many buildings.
Moving To Touchless Elevators
In 2020, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new issue rose to the top of facility managers priority lists: tenant safety. With the widespread adoption of touchless technology in multi-story buildings, the elevator often represents the only surface tenants and visitors must physically interact with in the building’s public spaces.
Concerns about the cleanliness of elevator buttons are not necessarily new — research in 2014 by OBP Medical found that elevator buttons in hospitals contained more bacteria than toilet flushers in the same facility — but the pandemic has created a new sense of urgency related to this issue. The prospect of tenants returning after a long absence and being faced with crowds in front of elevators and then having to select their floor by pushing a button that has been touched by dozens of other people, despite regular cleaning, is one many facility managers are looking to avoid.
One solution is touchless elevator controls, and a number of approaches have been introduced this year to address this challenge, including foot pedals and holographic buttons. However, as building owners and facility managers consider touchless solutions, they should think beyond the current situation and consider solutions that address safety concerns while also delivering additional value through features that include:
App-based. From digital wallets to virtual keys, the things we rely on most continue to migrate to smartphones. Putting elevator control in the hands of building occupants through a smartphone app provides the greatest flexibility for building managers and the best experience for tenants and visitors. One key advantage of this approach, compared to card-based systems, is that it enables users to select their destination in the app as they enter the building. They can then go directly to a waiting elevator, avoiding congestion in front of elevators that can occur with card readers. As more buildings develop apps to enhance tenant service, app-based touchless elevator solutions can be embedded into these multi-function apps to increase their value.
IoT-enabled. Unobtrusive and easy-to-install IoT technology supports app-based systems by recognizing tenants through their smartphone as they enter the building. With this capability, the solution can automatically call an elevator cab to take tenants to their default floor without the person ever taking their phone out of their pocket.
Secure. Touchless elevator systems can integrate with building access control systems to address concerns with security and safety through a single solution. The control provided by a touchless solution enables building and security managers to limit access to floors to authorized groups or individuals while increasing tenants’ confidence that building owners are doing everything possible to ensure safety.
Easy-to-Manage and Interoperable. The touchless elevator system should include a digital interface or command center that enables facility and security managers to easily manage changes in authorizations as they are required. The most flexible solutions will also work with elevators from all leading manufacturers.
Delivering A Better Experience
In the short term, an app-based, touchless elevator system represents an easy-to-implement solution that addresses concerns about the safety of public spaces in the COVID era while delivering the added benefit of enhancing building security.
In the long term, these solutions deliver a better experience to tenants that will help buildings differentiate and increase tenant satisfaction. The more people that get exposed to touchless elevator systems the more they will come to expect the convenience and personalization of being able to call an elevator from their phone or walk into a building and travel to their default floor without even calling a cab. As buildings develop their own apps to serve tenants the inclusion of touchless elevator capabilities will become an expected feature.
For most of their existence, the focus of elevator improvements has been on reliability and efficiency. While those are still important, new touchless elevator systems are now able to address growing concerns about building safety while simultaneously closing a security gap within buildings and delivering greater convenience and personalization to tenants. The pandemic has created significant challenges for managers of multi-story buildings, but it has also accelerated the implementation of new technologies that are meeting the challenges of today while defining the future of vertical transportation.
Skoulis is founder and chief executive officer at braXos, a global developer of building security and connectivity solutions. The company’s Steward middleware security platform and family of Connectors are being used today by leaders in the commercial and residential real estate industries to close security gaps in vertical transportation. The company’s LiftOff elevator system allows property managers and elevator manufacturers to deploy touchless, app-based elevator management that controls access.