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MULTI ensures social distancing while maintaining high passenger throughput

COVID-19 is not only challenging the medical field, it is affecting every sector of business and nearly every aspect of our daily lives. With social distancing rules put in place around the globe, it also impacts our use of elevators.

Elevators in high-rise office buildings often hold up to 20 persons (the largest elevators hold 80). Three main pillars have been introduced to create a more comfortable and secure elevator experience – clean, touchless, and social distancing.

However, when social distancing rules are followed, those elevators can no longer meet passenger demand if they are limited to only 10-20% capacity. This creates a paradox: the most logical way to move more passengers is to increase the number of elevator cabins – but you can’t build more elevator shafts.

Fortunately, there is an additional solution to get around that problem.

Challenge: Social distancing in traditional elevators drastically reduces handling capacity, leading to crowding in elevator lobbies.

MULTI offers a solution in times of a global pandemic

MULTI is the world’s first cable-free elevator solution that enables multiple cabins to operate in a loop. The individual elevator cabins are equipped with linear motor technology and travel on a track on the back wall of the elevator shaft. There are multiple benefits of this concept: a nearly unlimited number of cabins are possible; they can move vertically and horizontally; they can operate in a loop like a paternoster; and cabins can potentially move from one building to another via a tunnel or a skybridge.

While innovative clean and touchless technologies have already been introduced for traditional elevators, there is an additional aspect of the MULTI solution that can help ensure social distancing during a pandemic. The number of cabins in a MULTI installation can be increased or decreased depending on demand. This means that when social distancing requires fewer passengers per cabin, building owners can increase the number of cabins in the shafts to ensure the system can move large numbers of people safely and, at the same time, avoid crowding in the elevator lobbies.

This is the solution to the paradox above (“You can’t build more elevators”): Because you can add more elevator cabins if you have a MULTI.

Solution: MULTI makes high handling capacity possible even with strict social distancing requirements, which prevents crowding in elevator lobbies.

Multiple pandemic solutions

MULTI’s ability to continuously move passengers offers the potential of eliminating crowds in elevator lobbies. This helps ensure proper social distancing both inside the elevators and in the lobbies. But how does this work in practice and how can it be supported by related solutions?

Standard cabin dimensions make it possible to add more as needed

With the Social Distancing Service, elevator traffic is assessed to balance building congestion risks with social distancing needs. As mentioned, this is still a restrictive solution for traditional elevators as there are only a limited number of cabins.

The main benefit of MULTI during a pandemic is the large number of elevator cabins that can operate simultaneously when implemented as a paternoster-style loop. Different options are available for ensuring flexibility in the number of cabins.

In one option, extra cabins can be stored in what can be called a parking shaft. These cabins will always be readily available for increased user demand, parked just outside of the operational circuit when not in use, and thus saving energy costs by preventing unnecessary trips.

Another option for building owners is to purchase or lease additional cabins when it becomes needed. This is made possible by the cabins’ standard size and shape. Service level agreements can also be defined that would guarantee additional cabins in cases of changing demand or pandemic-related social distancing.

Double entrances in elevator lobbies

In almost every case, MULTI will use at least two shafts, both of which would extend to the lobby. This means the system can double the number of people entering at the lobby simply by having two (or more) entrance doors at the ground level. These two doors would provide simultaneous access to two cabins that travel along the same circuit. By allowing two cabins to open at the same time every 15-30 seconds, a building’s vertical transportation can achieve a near-constant flow of people.

An additional boost from digitalization

Destination dispatch systems do a good job of assigning people to elevators to ensure maximum elevator system efficiency. Our predictive maintenance IoT solution MAX provides data about elevator traffic changes to best balance passenger wait times with social distancing needs. These systems can also be reprogrammed to ensure there are no more than two people per elevator cabin. Furthermore, they can automatically decide whether it is more efficient to assign passengers to MULTI or another elevator solution like TWIN (two independent elevators in a single shaft).

Usually, these solutions rely on a touchscreen or ID card swipe to assign people to the proper elevator. Although the time needed to do this is very brief and does not seriously impede people flow, it is a bottleneck that can be eliminated. Facial recognition technology could automatically group people who belong together (families, close colleagues, etc.) and assign them to an elevator before they even arrive at the elevator lobby. Furthermore, to avoid surface contamination from a touchpad, voice recognition technology could be used to receive passenger destinations.

Conversion of two traditional elevator shafts

Standard MULTI cabins are smaller than traditional elevators, which means the shafts can be smaller and thereby save space. Nevertheless, when renovating the elevator system of an existing building, it is possible to repurpose two traditional elevator shafts as a MULTI circuit. This would require connecting the two shafts at the bottom and top so that MULTI’s cabins can pass from one shaft to another. Although this is not an option for some buildings, it is a viable solution in many cases.

Benefits for different building types

  • Residential: Although the elevator systems in residential buildings typically have less traffic, there are many benefits MULTI can offer. One major benefit during a pandemic would be the option of having a private elevator cabin for each family. Since MULTI can travel horizontally, a cabin could potentially “park” off to the side of an elevator shaft and remain there until the family needs it again. This would completely prevent surface contamination within the cabin.
  • Office: Office buildings stand to gain great benefits, mostly from the high passenger throughput of MULTI. The mornings and evening peak hours could be handled quite effectively using the methods described above even in situations requiring strict social distancing.
  • Mixed-use building: In addition to the benefit of high-passenger throughput, each tenant (hotel, company, etc.) could reserve its own contingent of cabins or define service level agreements with the building owner, which lay out demand-based availability requirements at different times of the day.

High passenger handling capacity with safe social distancing
On top of clean and touchless technologies, MULTI is a highly effective elevator solution when it comes to operating within the constraints of social distancing – in elevators and in lobbies – while still ensuring high-capacity transportation in tall buildings.

If social distancing rules remain in place for only a short time, it is reasonable to assume that more people will stay in their homes and the demand for elevators will be reduced. However, if a pandemic remains with us as a long-term challenge, we will have to find solutions that allow people to move about their cities and their buildings more freely. MULTI is one potential solution that can help people retain their freedom of movement while still benefiting from short waiting and travel times within their buildings.