For so long, advances in vertical transportation have centered on speed. How fast can the elevator get you to the top floor of a 60-story building without making riders feel like they are on a rollercoaster? Now, however, engineers are looking to cutting-edge technology to transform the elevator ride into something that seems otherworldly but serves a host of practical purposes beyond just expeditious movement: ropeless elevators. That’s right, no ropes, folks. It’s a concept that will likely face the same safety concerns that arose with the introduction of the first elevator. Combine the absence of cables with the ability to move not just vertically but horizontally and diagonally as well, and you have one of the most trail-blazing developments in the world of elevators.
Multi-directional elevators have not yet been installed commercially, but they will be soon. This high-tech mode of building transportation has been in development for some time. Düsseldorf, Germany-based TK Elevator, previously known as ThyssenKrupp Elevator, revealed its development of the aptly named MULTI, the first rope-free multi-directional elevator system in late 2014, unveiling a scale model of the system scale in 2015. It may sound like the stuff of fantasy—even TKE alludes to the fictional elevator that moved in all directions in the classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when discussing MULTI—but it’s real.
In June 2017, TKE introduced MULTI to the public at its 800-foot-tall Test Tower in Rottweil, Germany. “We do have a real scale, working prototype, and our team is progressively certifying each element of MULTI ropeless system with relevant governing bodies,” said Javier Sesma, Vice President of global business development at TK Elevator. The key behind the system is its ability to move without being tethered by the traditional elevator cable. Instead, MULTI utilizes a linear induction motor, which relies on a flat, magnetic core with coils transmitting an electric current that produces a traveling magnetic field. The motor propels multiple cabin systems through a single shaft designed in the form of a loop to accommodate vertical, horizontal, and diagonal movement. It’s revolutionary.
More than a high-tech toy
The advantages of a multi-directional elevator are numerous. In terms of building design, the use of linear induction eradicates the height limitation presented by rope-dependent elevators. Developers will be able to build without the height constraints of the modern elevator, with elevators that will get riders to the top floors of even the tallest skyscrapers without forcing them to transfer to one or more cars along the way to complete the trip, as is necessary today. Furthermore, because the multi-directional system depends on fewer and smaller cabins operating simultaneously in a single shaft, it requires a smaller footprint inside the building, preserving more leasable space. Typically, elevator cores require 20 to 40 percent of a high-rise’s floor space. MULTI can increase a property’s useable square footage by as much as 30 percent.
In addition to eradicating certain modern-day limitations on architectural design and freeing up square footage that would be utilized by a traditional system, multi-dimensional elevators provide a high level of efficiency. By providing higher transport capacity with fewer cars and shafts, multi-directional elevators reduce a building’s embodied carbon and carbon emissions footprint. And there are more advantages on the environmental front. “Since the system is like a vertical Metro system within a building, we can adapt the transportation systems for the demand, reducing the energy consumption versus other conventional systems,” Sesma said. MULTI also utilizes regenerative drives in its system, which produce energy by capturing heat generated by an elevator car’s descent and converting it into electricity for the building’s use. There’s also a practical side to multi-directional elevators. The loop-style, semi-continuous system makes for a more efficient ride flow, thereby less time spent in line use.
The implications of multi-directional elevators extend beyond the actual buildings in which they are based. “The potential that such a revolution in the transport sector would have is substantial, and it is certain that it would not be only tall buildings that would benefit,” according to a 2021 research paper published in the International Journal of High-Rise Buildings. “Public transport systems, for example, could be strengthened and put in more direct communication with the circulation inside the buildings, almost without interruption of continuity.”
Additionally, a building’s multi-directional elevator system could be combined with a public system featuring the same elevator technology, catering to private and public users simultaneously. A unified system like this could, for example, offer Metro riders direct elevator access to a mixed-use building’s retail segment across the street while also providing the property’s office occupants with elevator access within the same system without the two groups meeting. It would be a singular system, allowing access to different floors within a building either from a separate public transportation entrance nearby or directly from the building entrance.
Every new technology has its challenges
While the possibilities of elevator travel seem endless with multi-directional systems, there are bound to be downsides. First, because the loop system of the multi-directional elevator is vastly different from the mechanisms behind even the most high-tech elevators in use today, multi-directional elevators can only be installed in new projects where they can be incorporated into an original design before construction. And then there’s the question of cost, which, because the system is only in use at TKE’s Test Tower, has not been calculated for commercial use. “It is difficult to give any number before understanding the building use population and location,” Sesma explained.
Despite the current challenges in the real estate sector, developers continue to develop. When the multi-directional elevator system becomes available commercially, a certain contingent of developers of everything from office skyscrapers to high-rise apartment buildings to towering mixed-use structures will want to incorporate the system into their projects for all the practical benefits it provides, as well as the allure of cutting-edge technology it will offer to potential tenants. However, experts expect that the real estate industry as a whole may not be so quick to embrace an elevator system that transports people north, south, east, west, and diagonally. “A ropeless lift has a completely different operating principle. It, therefore, follows that it will require both a period of adaptation and, above all, a greater effort on the part of designers and experts to make this new device user-friendly and easy to understand,” according to the research paper.
Perhaps of greatest importance is the issue of trust. All parties involved in the development and installation of a multi-directional elevator system will need to convince users that the new-fangled transportation method is safe, and that will take time, as was the case in the decades following elevator company Otis’s installation of the first commercial elevator in 1857.
TKE may be on the verge of introducing the MULTI elevator system to the market, but it may still take some time before you can incorporate it into your own building project. The company is actively working on obtaining certification for all the components of this innovative system from the necessary agencies. While TKE is presently engaged in collaborations with architects, consultants, and developers across various projects, they are unable to disclose specific details due to confidentiality agreements. Initial installations are anticipated in cities located in the Middle East or Asia, particularly in dynamic urban centers like Shanghai or Dubai, where pioneering building designs are leading the way in construction trends.