Taking us for a ride?

Just when you thought there was an app for everything, there’s a new one that lets building tenants operate their elevators remotely from their smartphone or watch. Yes, you read that correctly. Control the elevator from your smartphone. Now what can go wrong with that?

Atlanta-based thyssenkrupp Elevator claims their new app reduces elevator traffic congestion, as well as eliminates physical interaction with elevator surfaces, buttons and handrails that can be prone to attracting viruses and bacteria. The technology will be tested at 55 Hudson Yards, the 51-story commercial office tower on Manhattan’s West Side.

Here’s a short video demo.

So is this a useful innovation or an app taken to the extreme? As I read and reread their announcement, I tried to imagine how it could be helpful. Knowing where individuals are heading before they get onto the elevator seems useful. It could be used to direct them to, say, one of two elevators, where those on the first are going to an upper set of floors, and those on the second are going to a lower set of floors. But then there’s the person without an app getting onto an elevator heading to the upper floors and selecting floor 3, messing up the entire premise. And what about a visitor to the building without an app that will just take the first available elevator, oblivious to this new system? Its usefulness seems to fall apart if some don’t use the app. Will the app be necessary to get onto the elevator?

It seems like a silly idea at best, an idea that few need or want. Now, we’ve all experienced waiting for elevators in hotels and office buildings, and it can be annoying. But usually it’s because there are too few elevators. And large buildings with banks of elevators already designate their elevators to specific floors. So perhaps there’s something else of value about this app?

The company goes on to explain how the app would be employed:

“Users can download the app from an app store and request enrollment. An intuitive administration portal allows the building management to process user requests individually or in batch uploads. The portal can integrate with most access control companies to synchronize permissions. In addition, building management can use the portal to create tenant groups and floor access schedules.”

So, using the elevator in your office building requires tenants to register.  What are the implications? Once registered, building management can now track their movements and even sell the information, or perhaps the elevator company decides to monetize the information they collect, such as selling data on how many hours each tenant is in the building and where they. We all have learned at how effectively the thousands of app makers have had in monetizing the data they amass. And here’s a new trove of data that never existed before, ripe for selling.

The company goes on to explain their registration process:

After being granted access, users then can create their profiles in the AGILE mobile powered by Liftoff app, requesting floor access and setting access schedules. Once approved by building management, the user can then begin accessing elevators remotely via the AGILE mobile powered by Liftoff app. Once a tenant enters the building’s lobby and connects with a beacon, a prompt is sent to the elevator system and the pre-selected floor is registered. The allocated elevator car is then promptly displayed on the app and the tenant quickly gets into the car.

This seems less like a way to prevent people from touching an elevator button, perhaps a bit about improving elevator efficiencies, but mostly about tracking tenants in their building.  That becomes clearer when you read the quote from the company’s CEO when he talks about safety. Safety is always the excuse for tracking us.

“Every property manager, developer, and building owner is responsible for providing the safest systems to ensure the health and wellbeing of all passengers during these very special times. We are proud to offer a robust portfolio of elevator enhancements designed specifically to meet the challenges associated with this pandemic,” says Kevin Lavallee, President and CEO of thyssenkrupp Elevator North America.

I’ve reached out to speak with the company, but have not heard back.

My verdict? More than silly…closer to dumb.

by Phil Baker