That's What I Call Spiced Ham: Volume One

The Emil Zátopek of webcomics.

Lift Enhancement

The lifts at our work can be annoyingly slow to get you where you want to go. One specific example behaviour seems particularly suboptimal:

When you are coming down from one of the upper floors to go out to the street to get lunch, there are usually several other people going out for lunch at the same time. So the lift can be full when it leaves the top floor, on its way down. People on every other floor in the building are also going to lunch at the same time, and of course pressing the lift call buttons. So as your full lift goes down, it stops at the next floor below, where the people waiting look inside, realise the lift is too full to take any more passengers, and decide to wait for the next one. Annoyingly often, this happens on every single floor until you reach the ground level. The result is that your trip down has taken significantly longer than it could have – for no purpose, because nobody else actually got on.

An obvious solution to this is to have the lifts automatically detect when they are full. When full, they only stop at floors desired by people inside the lift – they don’t stop at floors simply because someone on that floor is waiting for a lift. In the extreme case cited above, the lift would fill up at the top floor, and travel express to the ground floor without stopping. What’s more, because the lift reaches its destination faster, it empties out and can return to pick up more people at those intermediate floors faster too. Everyone wins!

So, the question is, why don’t lifts do this? One obvious answer is that it adds expense to the lift. Detecting the number of people, or load in the lift would presumably add a significant cost to the manufacture and maintenance. And it might not be all that reliable, skipping floors when there is still room for someone to squeeze in, or not skipping floors when it’s too full to fit anyone in. That could potentially be even more annoying.

This could be improved by putting some intelligence behind the decision to skip floors. But that adds even more expense. Then we realised that a lift full of people already has some intelligence in it.

What if there was a button in lifts labelled “Skip floors”? When you hold down this button, the lift doesn’t stop for call signals; it only stops at floors where people want to get off.

The immediate problem is that people would be jerks and abuse the button, using it to get to lunch 30 seconds faster even when nobody else is in the lift with them. Or would they? Some people would, no doubt, but maybe enough people would be socially responsible that the overall benefits and time saving outweigh the inefficiencies caused by jerks. You just need enough social pressure to make sure that people treat the button with respect and use it only when it makes sense.

How could you provide that social pressure? What about putting a camera in the lift, which shows the occupants on a monitor at each floor that is skipped when using the button? Some jerk can still use the button when alone in the lift, but everyone else waiting for a lift on the way will see who it is. That might just do the trick. Would you abuse the button knowing everyone could see you doing it?

Finally, we realised that this would work brilliantly in glass lifts – where you can see who is in the lift even without a camera.

So, to all lift manufacturers out there: Please put a “skip floors” button in your lifts, so we can try this out.

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