Passenger safety is not just important in the world of planes, trains and automobiles. It is also critical in our day-to-day lives on public conveyances such as elevators and escalators. There are 23,000 elevators and escalators in B.C. — escalators, alone, can move 3,000 people an hour. When we enter an elevator, it is making more than 800 trips a day to transport people to and from their homes, work or appointments. As the pace of high-rise and commercial development increases and we add ever-more elevators to our environment, how can we ensure our safety?
Enter the “internet of things” (IoT) — a network of devices and sensors installed into various devices that connect to the Internet and facilitate data collection and exchange. This technology is all around us, in products such as security systems and thermostats, washing machines and photocopiers, and devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo. Within the next two years, it is predicted there will be 35 billion connected devices on the planet. With IoT and sensor technology already helping to make our homes, cars and workplaces smarter and more measurable, at Technical Safety B.C. we started to wonder what the broader applications could be in the world of public safety.
While the number of B.C. elevator and escalator permits has remained stable over the past five years, the number of reported injuries decreased by half between 2013 and 2017. The decline is exactly what Technical Safety B.C. would expect from better safety awareness, more training and newly engineered elevators and escalators replacing older stock every year.
The main challenge to take elevator safety to the next level is prediction. How do we systematically predict and prevent an elevator incident? We commissioned a study with Acada Consulting and other research partners to test whether we could continuously monitor the movement of elevators, through the implementation of smart sensors and IoT devices. If it worked, it could be a game-changer in public safety.
The IoT prototype was tested in partnership with several municipalities and building owners. The sensors measured how the speed of an elevator changed, as it sped up to reach a floor and then slowed down to allow the door to open. Nothing else was measured. Looking at only that data when the acceleration wasn’t smooth and regular, our analytics showed a hidden pattern of anomalies. These patterns could, in theory, help identify issues and prevent incidents.
Attaching sensors to elevators is not new. Many new elevators are already equipped with sensors that detect various functions, including excessive speeds, electricity consumption and accurate alignment to the correct floor height to prevent tripping hazards.
The IoT sensors in this study are passive and cannot affect the operation of the elevator. However, they are able to store and securely transmit the safety information, allowing for crucial real-time performance monitoring from a remote location. The sensors attached to elevators could also encompass a wider variety of elevator health measurements, including temperature, noise, vibration, humidity, speed and acceleration, in addition to providing a higher level of sensitivity and accuracy.
Given these advantages, it is likely that the use of IoT in elevators will increase in B.C. and may even start to be installed in older elevators built before this technology existed. If elevator owners and mechanics can use data to identify existing problems and predict future issues, we think this has important safety value. These elevators may not yet come with a cool app, but a IoT device could be working 24/7 to help keep you safe.
And that’s a responsibility we take to heart.
Catherine Roome is president and CEO of Technical Safety B.C., an independent, self-funded organization that oversees the safe installation and operation of technical systems and equipment across the province.
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