In the area of "smart" buildings and cities, internet of things applications are starting to appear that accentuate convenience and customer satisfaction rather than new revenue streams.
Otis Elevator, for example, is looking to make sure passengers in its elevators get a smooth ride while giving building owners more insight into their infrastructure and making maintenance workers’ jobs easier.
Over the rest of this year, Otis Elevator is rolling out to early adopters in the U.S. and China a new IoT system, Otis ONE, which is an enhanced service that gives customers real time data and transparency to elevator operations.
With Otis ONE, building managers can monitor elevators via the web or phone apps, but ONE is really more for Otis maintenance engineers, who can spot, diagnose and fix a problem before anyone in the building notices.
"Our customers are asking for three things—predictive [maintenance], proactive communication, and transparency," said Christopher Smith, Vice President, Service Innovation for Otis Elevator, in an interview with eWEEK.
"Whether it’s uptime or down time, they want less disruption to the building," he said. "Customers know they will be running better and will be moving their people more efficiently. What building owners really care about is a service call that shuts down an elevator and causes disruption to their building."
Otis is building on decades of experience installing and maintaining its elevators. The company maintains more than 2 million elevators—more than 300,000 of which are already tied to its Remote Elevator Monitoring (REM) system, Smith said. With REM, maintenance engineers could “dial in” to an elevator to get information, but it was not a real-time system.
Within the ONE system, which is part of Otis’ Signature Service package, sensors akin to accelerometers on an iPhone are installed on an elevator along with an edge gateway that connects to partner Microsoft and its Azure Cloud. The data collected goes into a dashboard accessible to Otis engineers and building managers.
The system is part of the evolution toward modernizing product monitoring technology. In recent years Otis has developed a series of mobile apps to put into the hands of maintenance crews—about half of Otis’ 68,000 employees work in maintenance—that enable them to share data about problems and their solutions.
One such app, called Tune, enables engineers to enter any elevator, connected or not, and get a quick look at ride diagnostics by placing the iPhone on the floor of the cab. Speed and vibration data can provide insight into the health of an elevator’s equipment.
Most maintenance issues involve elevator doors, Smith said, as dust, dirt and constant use can cause doors to malfunction and render the elevator unusable. The issue presented a good opportunity to apply predictive analytics to get a head start on failures.
“We have written algorithms to measure the health of the door,” Smith said. “It may be taking more torque to close the door, which could be due to debris in the track. Over time we may see a degradation of health and with the analytics we have written we can predict that this elevator will have a shutdown sometime in the next three to 20 days, and that determines how soon I need to get out there.”
Time will tell how accurate the predictive models can be as customers are still testing them out. But what is clear is that with more data comes more visibility into the system and more information about the health of the building, which gets back to the convenience factor driving this use case.
“We’ve had usage data on elevators that's been locked in the system for many years and now we are surfacing this data. And customers say they can use this information to better manage their building,” Smith said. “Managers can now determine usage and if they have to schedule a move and they can see that Tuesday afternoons [have] the lightest usage. So they’ll have the least disruption by scheduling it for Tuesday afternoon.”
Further out, Otis believes that smart elevators can go beyond smart buildings to be a more integral part of the city they are in. “The elevator can have a role as the spine of a building, as a key ecosystem component of a building,” Smith said.
Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. He has an extensive background in the technology field. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise. While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.