Destinations and expectations

(This is my second post related to destination-dispatch elevators.
Here’s the first.)

“What IS this stuff?”

Having encountered the touchscreen call panels and the buttonless cars of the Hyatt Regency Vancouver, I tried to find out what this approach was, and why it was.

Image of a multistory building served by four elevators, with many people ready to board each elevator.
Example A: the way things were

The condensed version:

Destination dispatch systems (sometimes called, tellingly, destination management systems) assign passengers to particular elevator cars based on their destination rather than by when passengers entered the elevator lobby.

Example A, taken from an online course on DD, shows a standard elevator system: passengers are waiting in a building lobby served by four elevators. When one arrives, everyone who can will enter, guaranteeing a maximum number of stops.

What’s more, until people are inside the car and select a floor, nobody–except the individual passenger–knows who’s going where. Out of a dozen passengers, eight could all be going to the 11th floor, but they’ll have to stop at 3, 4, 7, and 8 along the way.

A multistory building showing elevators assigned to specific floors. If you're going to the 8th floor, you'll be assigned to elevator B or D.
Example B: a conventional destination system

In a “conventional destination system,” as shown in Example B, people first choose a floor, then get assigned to an elevator based on that choice.

If this example were the Hyatt, when I selected the sixth floor, I’d get assigned to elevator C. There’d be no point in boarding elevator A or B or D–at least on this trip, they wouldn’t be stopping on the sixth floor.

If you compare the images, the four elevators in example B make fewer stops total, for the same passengers, than the elevators in example A.

The first-time passenger wouldn’t know that, of course; she’s mainly concerned with getting to the sixth floor so likely isn’t pondering the rationale. Though if three other elevators arrive before elevator C does, she might start wondering why.

The reasons why

The goal is to move people through the building faster and use the elevators more efficiently. Here’s an example from a Thyssenkrupp fact sheet for one of their offerings:

A chart comparing traditional elevator operation with destination dispatch. Traditional could involve 15 stops. Destination dispatch might require only 4.
Traditional elevator operation on the left; destination dispatch on the right.

It took me a while to read the left-hand example: there are four people traveling to each floor; they are color-coded by floor. Take the elevator on the left, three people get on in the lobby. The yellow person gets off on the third floor; the dark-blue person on the fourth, and the light-blue person on the fifth. In the right-hand example, four light-blue people get on the second elevator and travel straight through to the fifth floor.

The more I read, the more complexity I found.

  • Types of buildings: how you apply destination dispatch is one thing for a hotel, another thing altogether for an office building. And in the latter case, do you have a lot of within-the-building traffic, like from the finance department to the sales department?
  • Types of access: you can combine destination dispatch with a security system. For an office building in lower Manhattan, employees of Lochaber Amalgamated might have floor access determined by function — if you’re not in IT, maybe you have to be escorted onto the 9th floor by someone who is.
  • Destination dispatch might allow you to have fewer elevators with the same level of service as a greater number of traditional-technology elevators.

What I’m thinking (now)

As Don Norman said of design, everything is a tradeoff. Because this is (relatively) new technology, I think most people aren’t accustomed to it, and as noted early, each morning during my three-day stay, I was surprised to step into the car and find no destination buttons whatsoever.

For my wife and her fellow conference attendees, the switch between two hotels where events took place meant they were regularly shifting between the Old Way and the New Way, elevatorially speaking.

Still, the initial learning curve is relatively low. Yes, you’ll be a bit pokey on your first few rides (“Oh, right, gotta choose my floor”), and especially in the lobby you’ll learn quickly not to jump into just any open elevator–because not only is this one not going to the tenth floor, once you’re inside there’s no way to make it go there.

The most striking drawback, I think, was the lack of status information for people waiting, especially during busy periods like lunchtime. I waited on the sixth floor with eight or ten people wanting to descend to the lobby. We heard elevator noise and even voices in the elevators, but we had no idea when our elevator would show up, nor where it was in the meantime.

It doesn’t take long to get impatient at that point and to lose faith in a newfangled system. Yes, this might be more expedient for the average passenger, but I’m not the average passenger — I’m just me, and I’m wondering when I’m going to get off this damned floor.

I don’t have any big conclusion. Ultimately I enjoyed this real-life user-interface experiment. It left me with more appreciation of what a challenge it can be, trying to make new technology work in the real world.

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