Huawei — a company best known for its network technology solutions and Android smartphones — is now moving into the elevator business. It has spent the last two years developing a 'smart' elevator solution that is safer and cheaper to maintain. Here's how it works.
There are millions of elevators in the world that shuttle billions of people up and down buildings — every single day. There's only so much space to accommodate for our growing populations and most cities are now building vertically. This mean we rely on elevators more than ever.
The physical installation of elevators is not a particularly lucrative business, but elevator maintenance is. Currently, most lifts require regular manual inspects. It's a complicated affair and the costs of getting highly skilled workers out on site can add up. This is where Huawei wants to enter the picture, to help reduce the cost and time of maintaining lifts.
At the inaugural Huawei Connect 2016 conference in Shanghai, China, the company announced that it has developed a connected elevator solution that combines internet-of-things (IoT), software defined networking (SDN), cloud computing, edge computing and predictive analytics. The idea is to install sensors in elevators, with the data collected about them transferred through an IoT gateway with the centralised management of millions of IoT terminals done through SDN. Data is processed through an IoT platform in the cloud.
Edge computing comes in to provide real-time data processing close to the location of the sensors. It also provides contingency for when IoT terminals fail or when there are network interruptions. Edge nodes can take over swiftly. If the connection to the cloud is broken, the machine and equipment can still run at edge nodes. Another obvious advantage of edge computing in the context of smart elevators is that a portion of the data collected by the sensors can be processed on site, reducing overall traffic that goes to the cloud.
When it comes to IoT, there's always the question of security since every sensor could be an entry point for attackers. Huawei has considered this, building in layers of security from the IoT sensor chips that prevent injection of malicious code right through to the operating system which the company wrote the underlying code for. At the network level, IoT gateway connections to the cloud are encrypted.
Huawei president of enterprise network product line Swift Liu said at the conference that in the past 2-3 years he has heard about a number of tragic incidents related to faulty elevators. (You've probably seen some horror security footage yourself on social media.) He hopes that the kind of technology the company has developed can predict faults before they happen to prevent tragedies from occurring.
This smart elevator solution is particularly pertinent to China. According to Liu, 68 per cent of the new elevators that were installed in 2014 were located in China. But Huawei hopes its connected elevator offering will spread around the world. It has entered a global partnership with elevator and escalator manufacturer Schindler Group to implement Huawei's connected elevator technology to reduce maintenance resources required. All new elevators that Schindler Group manufacture and install will be network-ready.
"Through the SDN architecture, it enables centralised management of equipment and lower maintenance costs," Liu said. "Skills needed to maintain elevators can be reduced because you can put skilled people in one centre and provide support remotely.
"Maintenance costs can be reduced by 50 per cent."
The Huawei connected elevator solution also support third-party apps and access such as for property managers to check on the lifts or for advertising agencies to manage the digital signage boards inside. The latter can be used to provide an additional revenue stream.
While Huawei and Schindler Group's partnership will see an increase in the number of connected elevators, there's still the issue of retro-fitting existing lifts with this kind of technology. Schindler CEO for China Daryoush Ziai can't say how long it will take to fit every elevator the company has ever installed will this kind of smart monitoring system but it has every intention to do so. The speed at which this will be achieve will also hinge on government regulation which may force the industry as a whole to put in place smart monitoring technology for older elevators, he said.
Spandas Lui travelled to Shanghai as a guest of Huawei