Elevators of the future: Companies race to create go-to technology for supertalls

Speed, direction and materials are key to innovation

Shanghai Tower and its elevator (Credit: Mitsubishi Electric)
Shanghai Tower and its elevator (Credit: Mitsubishi Electric)

As supertalls continue to sprout up in the city’s skyline, elevator companies are racing to come up with the future of vertical transportation.

In the next two years, developers are expected to build 187 towers across the globe that will each rise at least 820 feet high, Bloomberg reported. That fast pace has major companies — Thyssenkrupp, Kone, Otis Elevator, Schindler Group and Mitsubishi Electric Corp., together considered the “Big Five” — scrambling to dream up the go-to technology for these towers.

Germany-based Thyssenkrupp AG has been working on an elevator that can move vertically and horizontally and can travel inside and outside a building, using a magnetic system instead of cables and pulleys. That model, dubbed the Multi, is expected to be rolled out in 2020.

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Meanwhile, Kone is working on the UltraRope, a carbon fiber wire that is lighter than steel and doubles the maximum height an elevator car can be hoisted in a single trip. The Karlatornet tower, which is expected to be the tallest building in the Nordic countries when completed, will use the Kone system. Mitsubishi and Otis are upping the game when it comes to speed. In the Shanghai Tower, Mitsubishi’s NexWay System set records for traveling 45.9 miles per hour. Otis’ Sky Shuttle in the Lotte World Tower in Seoul set another record for double decker elevators.

There are physical limits to how far elevator technology can go, however. All elevators have to travel downward at no more than roughly 33 feet per second so that the inner ear can adjust — and so that bladders can too, Jim Fortune, an elevator consultant, told Bloomberg.

“Older people can wet their pants if they come down too fast,” he said. [Bloomberg] — Kathryn Brenzel