The Internet of Things takes public safety to the next level


By Catherine Roome
CEO, Technical Safety BC

Passenger safety is not just important in the world of planes, trains and automobiles. It is also critical in our day-to-day lives, on the street, at work and on public conveyances such as elevators and escalators. There are 23,000 elevators and escalators in BC – the escalators alone can move 3,000 people in an hour. When we step into an elevator, it is making more than 800 trips a day to transport people like you and me to and from our homes, our work and our dentist’s offices. As the pace of high-rise and commercial development increases and we add ever-more elevators to our environment, how can we ensure our safety?

Enter the Internet of Things (IoT) — a network of devices and sensors installed into various devices which connect to the Internet and facilitate data collection and exchange. This technology is already all around us – in products such as security systems and thermostats, in new washing machines and photocopiers, and in devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo. In the next two years it is predicted there will be 35 billion connected devices on the planet. With IoT and sensor technology already helping make our homes, cars and workplaces smarter and more measurable, at Technical Safety BC we started to wonder what the broader applications could be in the world of public safety.

While the number of B.C. elevator and escalator permits has remained stable over the past five years, the number of reported injuries has decreased by half between 2013 and 2017. The declining trend is exactly what Technical Safety BC would expect from better safety awareness, more training for elevating device mechanics, and newly engineered elevators and escalators replacing older stock every year.

However, the main challenge to take elevator safety to the next level is one of prediction. How do we systematically predict and prevent the occurrence of an elevator incident? We commissioned a study with Acada Consulting, in collaboration with a number of other research partners, to test whether we could continuously monitor the safe movement of elevators, through the implementation of smart sensors and IoT devices. If it worked, it could be a game-changer in public safety.

The IoT prototype was tested in partnership with several local municipalities and building owners. The sensors only measured how the speed of a participant elevator changed, as it sped up to reach a floor and then slowed down to allow the door to open. Nothing else was measured. Looking at only that data when the acceleration wasn’t smooth and regular, our data analytics showed a hidden pattern of anomalies. These patterns could, in theory, help identify issues and prevent incidents.

Attaching sensors to elevators is not a novel idea. Many new elevators are already equipped internally by the manufacturer with sensors which detect various elevator functions including excessive speeds, electricity consumption, and accurate alignment to the correct floor height to prevent tripping hazards.

The IoT sensors in this study are passive and cannot affect the operation of the elevator. However, they are able to store and securely transmit the safety information, allowing for crucial real-time performance monitoring from a remote location. The sensors attached to elevators could also encompass a wider variety of elevator health measurements including temperature, noise, vibration, humidity, speed and acceleration in addition to providing a higher level of sensitivity and accuracy.

Given these advantages, it is likely that the use of IoT in elevators will increase in BC and may even start to be installed in older elevators that were built before the advent of this technology. If elevator owners and elevating mechanics can use data to identify existing problems and predict future issues, we think this has important safety value. These elevators may not yet come with a cool app, but a hard working IoT device could be working 24/7 to help keep you safe.

And that’s a responsibility we take to heart.

This opinion editorial appeared in the March 23, 2019 edition of the Vancouver Sun

Share article on