ELEVATOR PITCH

Listen to internet-connected elevators talk about how their day’s going

The future is here and it’s simultaneously beautiful and mundane.

There are so many truly amazing aspects of modern life that we take for granted—think about the pocket supercomputer you’re probably reading this on right now, and explaining that to someone in the 1970s—because they’ve become so essential and commonplace so quickly. And there’s nothing more banal than chatting with a fellow coworker over the internet about how your day is turning out—even if the two of you happen to be elevators.

Kone, the Finnish escalator and elevator company, announced this week that it had partnered with IBM to bring Watson, the tech company’s collection of machine-learning skills and services, to human-conveyance products. Through what it’s calling “24/7 Connected Services,” Kone will offer internet-connected elevators and escalators to its customers, allowing them to monitor the transportation systems in real time to assure they’re running correctly.

To show off how the technology works, Kone wired up a few of its elevators with sensors and the Watson technology to give them a voice. The elevators can now literally chat with Kone’s servers to share what they’re up to, how well they’re running, or if they’re encountering any issues.

You can actually listen to four sets of elevators talk to Kone’s servers in real time, and the conversations are both really dull and truly fascinating. What sounds like an employee out on a service call chatting with their dispatcher is really one computer connected to a series of sensors interpreting information and relaying it to a server, which in turn processes that information and responds accordingly.

The conversations read like a sort of bizarre play—a internet-of-things Waiting For Godot, where an eager elevator waits impatiently for passengers to show up, just wishing to transport them to their destinations, while the server tries to keep the elevator’s enthusiasm in check. I left the conversation of one elevator in Illinois running in the background as I wrote this, and found it oddly soothing. Here’s a snippet of some of the interactions:

KONE Elevator
Ready to ride.

KONE Cloud
I have you on floor 4, idling.

KONE Elevator
Waiting for passengers.

KONE Cloud
I’m reading the same.

KONE Elevator
Idle on floor 4. Perfect temperature at 20.8 °C.

KONE Cloud
Acknowledged.

KONE Elevator
Minimal sway while starting my way down.

KONE Cloud
You’re doing well.

KONE Elevator
Please measure my landing accuracy on floor 6.

KONE Cloud
You’re fine. No immediate concern.

KONE Elevator
Highly accurate landing on floor 0.

KONE Cloud
Keep going.

KONE Elevator
Waiting for passengers in the USA.

KONE Cloud
Roger that, you’re idling.

KONE Elevator
Ready to ride.

KONE Cloud
Thanks. Wait for a passenger.

KONE Elevator
Illinois. Waiting for passengers.

KONE Cloud
I confirm. You’re idle on floor 4, with a temperature of 22.3 degrees.

KONE Elevator
Ready for passengers on floor 4.

KONE Cloud
Patience.

KONE Elevator
Waiting for passengers on floor 4.

KONE Cloud
Somebody will be there soon.

KONE Elevator
Humidity at 12.7 %. Waiting on floor 4.

KONE Cloud
Copy, nice & dry.

KONE Elevator
Waiting for passengers in the USA.

KONE Cloud
Roger that, you’re idling.

KONE Elevator
Standing by.

KONE Cloud
Okay. Excellent.

“Kone initiated ‘machine conversations’ as a way to help others understand how machines may talk to each other, all in the spirit of creating a better customer and building-owner experience,” Danilo Elez, Kone’s senior vice-president in charge of service for the company’s American arm, told Quartz. “When our elevators share information about their performance with IBM Watson, we’re working to improve their availability and ride quality in real time.”

Elez added that Kone intends to bring internet connectivity to its elevators around the world, to allow them to share all sorts of performance data with their managers, such how often they stop and start, how many times the doors open and shut, how quickly they travel, and how warm they are. Each of these data points may seem inconsequential in a vacuum, but when added up over time, they can show, for example, how quickly elevators are wearing out, and whether a bank of elevators is being used uniformly. In the future Elez said, “Our elevators may self-diagnose potential issues and schedule a service repair before a broader issue that could cause unexpected downtime.”

Perhaps in the near future, when you’re stuck passing time in the elevator, instead of whipping out your phone for yet another game of Candy Crush, you’ll be able to shoot the breeze with your elevator.

“Waiting for passengers in the USA.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated where Kone is based. It is a Finnish company.

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