A new technology is being developed which promises to connect wheelchair users with elevators so they might get around modern buildings easier.
The idea is the winning entry to Kone DX Experiments, a design competition held by elevator and escalator specialist Kone. It is now being developed with consultation from Finnish Paralympic gold medal-winning sprinter Leo-Pekka Tähti.
“Another daily frustration that wheelchair users have to allow for”
The motivation for the technology stems from the inaccessibility of some lift systems for people using wheelchairs.
The idea is to connect wheelchairs to the lift system, allowing users to alert an elevator to their arrival or schedule one when needed.
As consultant Tähti explains: “Wheelchair users know how frustrating it can be trying to get around in a world that hasn’t taken their needs into account. Being delayed because an elevator is full or because we are held up by inaccessible design can become another daily frustration that wheelchair users have to allow for.”
“Designing a solution that will have the most benefit”
The as yet unnamed service technology is currently being developed , according to Kone chief technology officer Maciej Kranz.
He says the project is currently focused on developing a WiFi device that is attached to a wheelchair that can be connected to the operating system of a lift. This means the service could be used by those with smart-connected wheelchairs, or retrofitted onto standard models.
“Our main priority is designing a solution that will have the most benefit for its users,” Kranz says.
“The simplest and most intuitive UI”
Kranz explains that there are several stages to the design process for the technology – the user interface being one of them. “All the features will need to have the end user front of mind,” he says.
“We want to look at building the simplest and most intuitive UI for the users to benefit the widest audience,” he says.
Kranz says “a lot of effort” goes into finding news ways of communicating with elevators, and that this wheelchair system is just the latest for Kone. Prior to this project, he says the team created a “successful prototype” which allowed users to control elevators “with their mind”.
“Better accessibility and avoiding bottlenecks”
Kranz says there is nothing like this currently available to users or building staff. It was inspired by care home residents and how they move around their facility and was submitted to Kone by a French caretaker.
“Moving residents in a wheelchair to the right floors and with predictive elevator calls, the residents are able to move around more freely for example during lunch or dinner time, resulting in more freedom, better accessibility and avoiding bottlenecks,” he says.
Kranz predicts this technology will be part of the growing trend for more accessible cities.
“Our view is that connecting the wheelchair to an elevator is one example of how we can use technology for better inclusivity,” he says.