Climate change, COVID, and the need for smarter, more productive buildings has prompted elevator (and escalator) maker Otis to redesign the elevator. This week, the company launched what it calls its Gen3 elevator platform, which lets architects and/or building managers add smarts, voice interaction, gesture control, and predictive routing to their elevators.
Some of the technology Otis showed off is familiar — for example, scanning a key card at the elevator bank to call an elevator that will take you directly to your floor. Or screens that play ads, news, and weather while you’re trapped in the box trying to resolutely ignore your fellow riders. But with the new Gen3 platform, these options are supported by the base elevator platform as opposed to requiring a retrofit.
Some of the options include things like adding voice control to the elevator and using gesture-based controls so one gestures up or down when calling the elevator. As someone who talks with my hands, this feels like a potential problem. Otis also offers an API to clients and now that API will be able to integrate with robots, allowing the robot to call an elevator or ride in elevators when human traffic is light.
The new tech also lets people call a remote technician if the elevator gets stuck, letting people inside the elevator communicate with someone who can assure them help is on the way.
But many buildings will likely gravitate to some of the more familiar technology that Otis has baked into its Gen3 platform.
This includes calling the elevator using an app and the Bluetooth sensors on your phone. In this scenario, when you enter the building the Bluetooth sensor tells the elevator you’ve arrived and if you usually get off on a specific floor, it assumes that’s where you’re headed. You can change this in the app if you want to head to a different floor.
The Gen3 platform also has the sensors and technology required to offer predictive routing and predictive maintenance, which Otis has offered for the last few years using retrofits.
Otis is launching the futuristic elevator tech in Europe where it will replace some of the bulky mechanical elements with a truly autonomous “drive-by-wire system,” said Chris Chris Smith, VP of marketing and product strategy.
In other parts of the world, building codes don’t permit those systems yet, Smith said, but he anticipates in the next four to five years we may get the more autonomous systems approved here in the US.
I’m most interested in the Otis APIs. The company launched the new technology with a virtual presentation that featured robots communicating with the elevator via APIs. That stream of elevator data would be interesting if tied to building management systems or used to create digital twins of a building.
Otis charges for access to the API (it also makes money selling the elevators and providing maintenance contracts for other elevator owners) and I was curious how Smith plans to build a business for those APIs.
There’s an opportunity to sell a license to the data to companies trying to piece together an entire building’s digital twin, but I could also see a competing elevator maker trying to get access to Otis elevator data if it were trying to provide a maintenance contract on it. (In the elevator world Otis might maintain a Kone elevator or vice versa.)
Smith said he’s not sure if Otis would sell API access to a competitor. “We are having a lot of debates about this,” he said. “Where do we open it up and who do we open it up to? This is a conversation we’re having. Right now that request has not come to us.”
For many companies that have built out decades of experience building mechanical objects, the digital transformation is forcing them to confront their value. Is Otis a company that has 168 years of making mechanized boxes that deliver people safely up and down the spines of buildings? Or is it a company that promises that it can keep any elevator working based on those decades of experience and charges a monthly fee to keep that building infrastructure moving?
Or finally, is it something new? A company that has access to data about how people move around buildings can use that data to provide essential insights to a paying customer that might be a building owner, a tenant, or even an outside company interested in the information.
Smith’s colleagues who are debating access to the API are trying to answer that very question. For many providers of heavy machinery and infrastructure, how they allow access to their data will become a source of their future profits, but it might also become a source of a government inquiry.