Elevators have improved much over the years. Hand-drawn platforms in ancient Rome led to Elisha Otis’ safety brake to today’s elevators that are more efficient with destination dispatch and AI controls. But for all this advancement, the same basic premise persists: a cab, suspended by ropes, moves up or down a shaft.
Last year, German technology and engineering firm ThyssenKrupp unveiled the first novel advancement in elevator technology in generations. Their MULTI elevator system has since gone on to win a number of engineering and design awards, most recently the Innovation Award from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat at their 2018 Tall + Urban Innovation Conference in Chicago.
Billed as the world’s first and only rope-less, sideways-moving elevator, MULTI truly has the potential to change how buildings are designed and operate. Transporting multiple cars in a single shaft, both vertically and horizontally, the technology can increase a building’s leasable space by up to 25 percent.
“This might be seen as the first step toward a truly smart building,” said Michael Cesarz, CEO for MULTI at ThyssenKrupp Elevator, “and without smart buildings you can’t have smart cities.”
If traditional elevators are akin to a single-lane country road, the MULTI is a 10-lane highway. An elevator shaft with a single car moving up or down is incredibly inefficient. Passengers must wait for the car to travel in their desired direction—and the only solution to reduce this wait time is more elevator shafts, which eats up valuable real estate.
The MULTI would squeeze a number of smaller cars into more efficient space. Occupied cars could move past empty ones; cars can move sideways out of the way or to change vertical direction; most importantly, cars can travel in a loop, essentially putting a metro system inside a building.
According to ThyssenKrupp, this results in an increase in transport capacity by up to 50 percent as well as reduced waiting times for passengers. The system also requires dramatically lower peak power by as much as 60 percent when compared to conventional elevator systems, which allows for better management of a building’s energy needs and reduces investment costs in the power supply infrastructure.
MULTI also liberates architects who have had to constrain their designs to the needs of a traditional elevator. This isn’t limited to greater floorplates due to smaller shafts, either. Architectural flourishes like sky bridges, for example, could be far more dynamic.
“We’ve seen sky bridges in the past which in some buildings are more of an architectural gimmick, but now we can really use them,” Cesarz said. “Not having ropes gives us a freedom which we never had before.”
While the intention is for MULTI to go into new construction, the technology could be retrofitted to existing structures in the future. In this way, the technology could give space back to building owners and operators.
“It will be quite easy because the cabins of the MULTI will be smaller than usual cabins, at least in office buildings, so it will not be a great deal for us to retrofit it,” Cesarz said. “We don’t need the machine rooms, we just need the shafts.”
While MULTI has been put through its paces in a dedicated test shaft, the first real-world installation will be by 2020. That’s when OVG Real Estate’s East Side Tower in Berlin is slated for completion.
While the Dutch real estate technology company has announced that it will operate the inaugural MULTI system, ThyssenKrupp has been in discussions with developers around the world, including in the U.S.
“Obviously not every discussion will end up in a real project, this is clear,” Cesarz said. “But also clear is that it will not be zero.”
When Elisha Otis stood on an open-air platform at the 1853 World’s Fair in New York, dazzling onlookers as an associate cut the tether to prove his new braking system, he couldn’t possibly have predicted the skyscrapers that his invention would enable. With the freedom that the MULTI affords, what buildings will we see in the future?