Half the world’s population already lives in cities, and that number is expected to jump to 70 percent by the end of the century. To accommodate the new urban dwellers, cities will have to build higher—and that will mean doubling down on ways to transport residents from the ground up into the sky.
The medieval town of Rottweil, in rural South Germany, may seem like an odd place to contemplate the high-tech future. (The locale’s claim to fame is breeding the Rottweiler dog.) But ThyssenKrupp, an industrial company based out of Essen, managed to do so last month, at a flashy event promising to change how we design, build, and occupy tall buildings.
“For 150 years, elevators have been dominated by ropes,” says Andreas Schierenbeck, CEO of ThyssenKrupp Elevator. It’s technology that by now, most of the world knows well: cables hoist a car up and down the elevator shaft, making stops along the way.
But with this promise of increasing urbanization, ThyssenKrupp sought to fill an opportunity to make tall buildings more efficient. Their new technology, known as MULTI, throws out the traditional elevator configuration in favor of a ropeless system that can move both horizontally and vertically. The conventional steel rope most elevators run on adds considerable weight to a building, and becomes more strained the taller you build, ultimately restricting a tower's overall height. By eliminating the cables—and the height restrictions that come with them—ThyssenKrupp executives brag it’s a technology that could send “an elevator up to the moon.” Indeed, it’s the stuff of Star Trek and Willy Wonka—but it could eventually make its way to a city near you.
The company unveiled a functioning MULTI system at ThyssenKrupp’s 807-foot-tall concrete test tower, which has been a proving ground for the system over the past two-and-a-half years. The result is an elevator utilizing the same magnetic technology that moves Japan’s bullet trains. In this model, elevator cars—not unlike train cars—move along magnetic tracks, uninhibited by traditional cables. Linear motors and a multiple-level brake system replace cables. Cabs are able to change direction from vertical to horizontal thanks to a rotating “exchanger.”