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back to article New material enables 1,000-meter super-skyscrapers

A Finnish company says that it has solved a problem that has vexed the designers of ultra-tall skyscrapers such as the 828-meter Burj Khalifa in Dubai or the 509-meter Taipei 101 in Taiwan – and we'll pause for a moment to let you guess what that problem might be. Ready? It's the fact that elevators are currently limited to a …

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Joke

So in the race to build the tallest elevator we have reached the Finnish line?

You're a great audience! I'm here all week!!

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Re: So in the race to build the tallest elevator we have reached the Finnish line?

I think they've lapped you.

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Any rope is the problem

The limit on skyscrapers is how many lifts you have and how long people are prepared to wait for them.

If you have a rope, however ultra, you are limited to one lift per shaft.

A shaft takes up floor space, adding shafts means less tenants.

The solution is maglev lifts than run on rails in the walls of the shaft so you can have multiple lifts in the same shaft. You can also queue them like tube trains on the circle line. So in the morning rush, after the first lift leaves the ground floor there is another one that was parked in the basement which can follow it up a few seconds later.

You do need a bit of software to make sure that destination for lift 1 is > destination for lift 2 but even VB programmers should be able to manage that.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

I think you are dangerously over-estimating the capabilities of VB programmers. ;)

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Re: Any rope is the problem

Well, the next step up from that is what Star Trek euphemistically referred to as "turbolifts".

Once you replace the old Otis rope-and-counterweight system with a rail-based one (even if it's only a rack-and-pinion type rail drive rather than a maglev) it becomes possible to construct points and sidings by which lifts can be shunted and routed around each other. This would save on shaft space by allowing multiple lifts to occupy the same track while still having the possibility of passing each other by swapping rails at the points as needed.

Of course the downside of any rail-driven lift system is power consumption, because you now have to have an engine on the lift car itself driving the car against gravity. This is why the rope-and-counterweight system was invented in the first place - the counterweight means that the only force that has to be overcome is the inertia of the lift car, counterweight and rope - only the difference between the car and counterweight has to be hauled against gravity. (Note that Earth's gravity counts for quite a lot of power; it's the equivalent of going from 0 - 100 km/h in 2.8 seconds, continuously.)

With modern technology, however, the power consumption increase inherent in using a rack-and-pinion driven lift could be offset by using the same regenerative braking system used in electric cars. A lift could generate energy on the way down, by using its gravitational downward motion to charge a battery via its motor-generators. This energy can then be re-used for the upward trip; the entropic loss can easily be made up via a live rail and hot shoe system delivering extra power to the lift. I'd be interested to see what the difference in power use for such a system would be compared to the traditional rope-and-counterweight system. Any engineers care to comment?

With a system like this, there'd be no theoretical limit to the height of the shaft either, other than whatever structural compression limits might obtain on the materials used to construct the shaft and the building itself.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

What about failsafes? The Otis system used the presence of the rope itself to hold back safety bars, more modern systems rely on a governor to engage brake shoes on the rope or motor, and hydraulic elevators use the hydraulic system itself to limit the rate of descent. How would you ensure the safety of untethered elevator cars in the event of a catastrophic failure?

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@Yet Another Anonymous coward

you sound like a man who's played as much SimTower as I have!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Any rope is the problem

And the next step up from a turbolift is the Wonkavator.

"Willy Wonka: No, it's a Wonkavator. An elevator can only go up and down, but the Wonkavator can go sideways, and slantways, and longways, and backways...

Charlie Bucket: And frontways?

Willy Wonka: ...and squareways, and front ways, and any other ways that you can think of. It can take you to any room in the whole factory just by pressing one of these buttons. Any of these buttons. Just press a button, and *zing*! You're off. "

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Re: Any rope is the problem

@Steven Roper: Of course the downside of any rail-driven lift system is power consumption, because you now have to have an engine on the lift car itself driving the car against gravity.

Not if the engine is in the rails.

@Charles 9: ...more modern systems rely on a governor to engage brake shoes on the rope or motor...

Not according to http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/question730.htm -- modern failsafe brakes engage the rails in the shaft. An untethered car could use the same system with little modification.

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Joke

Re: Any rope is the problem

Enter the Heisenberg/Schrödinger elevator. It tunnels to the correct destination, and allows an arbitrary (but uncertain) number of elevators per shaft. Add defocused temporal perception and they will be there before you know you want them.

The only downside is their tendency to sulk in basements.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

"a bit of software" is understating it.

Q. What happens, once lift 1 and 2 have reached their destination, take on new occupants, and they want to travel in conflicting directions?

The answer needs to bear in mind that you're not building a vertical train set. You need to leave room in the building for the stuff that the building was built for.

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Boffin

"What happens, once lift 1 and 2 have reached their destination..."

Then they get queued. If there are other destinations that can reached during the wait then they can be. Some people would have to wait longer than other to travel less far but Yet Another Anonymous coward’s comment suggests a higher aggregated throughput.

It has its flaws but so do current lifts, I’m sure we’ve all had a lift stop at nearly every floor when we were in a rush.

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Boffin

Re: Any rope is the problem

"Q. What happens, once lift 1 and 2 have reached their destination, take on new occupants, and they want to travel in conflicting directions?"

Pretty simple and has already been piloted. Replace the "call" button on each floor with a keypad - instead of entering the floor you want when you're in the lift, you press it and wait for a lift to be scheduled. Allows for much more efficient lift routing.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

"Q. What happens, once lift 1 and 2 have reached their destination, take on new occupants, and they want to travel in conflicting directions?"

A: Same as with a train line. You have a up line and a down line. In this case an up shaft and down shaft. At each floor there is a connecting horizontal 'shaft' that between the up and down. It's only along the horizontal part that the doors open.

The car goes up the up shaft to the correct floor, stops and moves along the horizontal shaft to where the doors are. Doors open occupants change. The doors close and the car move along again into either the up or the down shaft and travels on. Routing software makes sure that two cars don't try to occupy the same bit of shaft at the same time and optimises travel.

Having said that. I don't think I'd like to use one.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

You have an "UP" shaft and a "DOWN" shaft.

But lifts can still break, and one stuck lift could mean a whole series of lift cars behind it being blocked. This means you need a bypass mechanism - points, sidings, etc.

Effectly you turn (for example) 8 lift shafts with one car into two lift shafts up, two down, each with multiple cars. The space for the other shafts is used for "turbo" to high floors and bypass shafts. It would look like a vertical railway.

But the points would be interesting to implement ... maybe four up, four down and if a lift sticks, bad luck.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

We have that in our building, so it's well beyond "piloted".

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Re: Any rope is the problem

So what if lift 1 reaches floor 105, and lift 2 is on floor 58. Then the person who gets into lift 1 what to go to floor 1, whereas the person getting in to lift 2 want to go the top? Does lift 1 have to go the top floor before it can go down again?

Could possibly have a system where the lifts roll over at the top and bottom, so that shaft A goes up and shaft B comes down. Just better make sure no-ones in the lift when it rolls over at the top (or at least normal non-thrill seaking people that didn't want to weren't anyway).

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Re: Any rope is the problem

"If you have a rope, however ultra, you are limited to one lift per shaft."

Not really, I think it is in the Petronas Towers where they have two lifts per shaft, one of top of the other, one for the even numbered floors and one for the odd numbered ones.

In the lobby there are mechanical stairs that they people to the first floor so they can get to the odd numbered floors.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

“So what if lift 1 reaches floor 105, and lift 2 is on floor 58. Then the person who gets into lift 1 what to go to floor 1, whereas the person getting in to lift 2 want to go the top? Does lift 1 have to go the top floor before it can go down again?”

Yes. But a single lift in a shaft has a similar problem as a single lift can’t go to the top and to the bottom at the same time. The multi-lift shaft lift will be able to deliver more people whilst this detour is happening. And if there aren’t many other people travelling you would probably have ‘parked’ a lift in the basement waiting for the next ground-floor rush.

(p.s. the downvote wasn't me)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Any rope is the problem

Same system is used in one of the salt mines in Poland that you can visit.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

Yeah but . . . .

If there's Heisenberg in it then how do you know they are in the basement?

Won't it also never arrive as the more you are waiting for it the more unlikely it is to arrive at the floor you are on.

(which means they are already operating under the H/S system)

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Re: Any rope is the problem

"You have an "UP" shaft and a "DOWN" shaft."

Aren't they 'Paternoster' lifts?

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Re: Any rope is the problem

"This is why the rope-and-counterweight system was invented in the first place - the counterweight means that the only force that has to be overcome is the inertia of"

Yeah - but the irrelevence of the lift comapred to the cable is the point of TFA. All you're really looking for is a handy way to store your potential energy for recycling to recover this.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

That's called a Paternoster lift, as in Sheffield's University's Tower of Art Arts Tower. This type of lift is probably so named as you recite the Pater Noster as you step off the edge...

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Re: Any rope is the problem

"Q. What happens, once lift 1 and 2 have reached their destination, take on new occupants, and they want to travel in conflicting directions?

The answer needs to bear in mind that you're not building a vertical train set."

Well, actually the answer IS to build a vertical train set. Have 1 shaft of elevators that only go up, 1 shaft only down, and rooms in the ceiling and basement where cabins are moved from one shaft to the other.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

the lifts roll over at the top and bottom

This is what a Paternoster lift does. Going over the top is disappointingly un-thrilling, but then it has to be slow enough for people to get in while it's in motion.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

Enter the Heisenberg/Schrödinger elevator.

Isn't that one where you don't know whether the occupants of the lift car are dead or alive until you open the door? Instead of something radioactive in the lift to determine the state, you just need to make sure one of the passengers is prone to flatulence.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

The problem with magnetic systems is the immense amount of electrical energy required to move the load. Elevators are far from light, they do have to endure the stresses of carrying their cargo, be it human or furniture/equipment.

That massive amount of current needed to shift an elevator car ends up producing immense amounts of heat, requiring cooling and further adding to the already massive electrical load of the system. Indeed, it could easily use more energy than the entire office tower occupants needs.

Great idea, thought of it myself, briefly. However, our current technology limits such magnetic devices quite heavily.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

Failsafes would be simple. A centrifugal system that, when a predetermined velocity is reached, signals a fall and engages brakes on a rail system that guides the elevator.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

That was part of my thoughts, add in that the more likely place to build such a tram would be on the outside of the building, obliterating the possibility of a decent view through a window. Add in the significant incline to ascend a floor, it becomes highly problematic.

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FAIL

Re: I think you are dangerously over-estimating the capabilities of VB programmers. ;)

I would extend that to include any Microsoft Technology in critical applications.

After all, I would not want to be in such an elevator when its control computer running Windows for Smart BuildingsTM decides it is time to download its "Patch Tuesday" updates with their inevitable reboot.

I can imagine it now, you are heading to the top of a very tall building, when the intercom announces: "The control computer must restart to complete the updates. Your elevator cab may either freeze in place, or go into free fall. When the system reboots, control will resume."

Thus you begin your 7 minutes of terror. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQ_8Md4iK-o )

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Re: Replace the "call" button on each floor with a keypad -

Which is something already done in practice.

read more: ( http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/pure-genius/intelligent-elevators-answer-vertical-challenges/8191 )

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Re: Any rope is the problem

Not really, I think it is in the Petronas Towers where they have two lifts per shaft, one of top of the other, one for the even numbered floors and one for the odd numbered ones.

Technically, that would be one lift with either two cars or one car with two cargo bays, depending on exactly how it's constructed.

Multiple lifts implies independent movement, which is not possible with that arrangement.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

"Not according to http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/question730.htm -- modern failsafe brakes engage the rails in the shaft. An untethered car could use the same system with little modification."

That assumes a power failure or similar problem with the car. But there's another point of failure that hasn't been fully accommodated yet: a break in the rail, particularly one simultaneous with a disaster. Especially for a cable-free design, there needs to be a way for the car to be able to support itself in the event of a single- or possible dual-rail failure (a cable-free setup would probably need four rails for safety and redundancy), because in the system you describe, the safety brake might have nothing to engage: slipping off or jumping the broken rail. That's one reason cables and counterweights are still in use: they are the failsafe against a rail failure. And since they rely on physics, it's a bulky by physically simple design. If an elevator car broke free of the guide rails, the setup would still mean the motor could retard or perhaps direct the movement of the car to a controlled point for extraction.

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FAIL

Re: Replace the "call" button on each floor with a keypad -

This is how elevators work at the building where our company is hosted. It certainly adds a degree of amusement to the office routine every now and again, whenever a first-timer rushes into an elevator, turns to where the button panel should be, and stares in dismay at the blank wall they find instead.

Unfortunately its scheduling algorithm is pure pants. Time and again we've been at the hall waiting for a lift, and when an elevator arrives, it is directed to a single floor directly above ours. In come two or three people, leaving the remaining twelve or so to wonder why the damned thing couldn't be programmed to make a stop or two before its final destination.

Alas, I just hope the failsafe brakes at least aren't software-controlled!

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Re: Any rope is the problem

That massive amount of current needed to shift an elevator car ends up producing immense amounts of heat

Well if there's that much hot air, why not tether a hot air balloon to the lift and use that to lift the cargo? You'd have to have the balloon "outside the box" (ie the building) which would definitely lead to challenges on windy days, but at least you might be able to use other waste heat from the building to keep it topped up. Sounds much nicer if you take the gondola to the 50th floor instead of a regular old "lift".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Any rope is the problem

"Just better make sure no-ones in the lift when it rolls over at the top"

There are continuous "bucket" lift systems where you step in and out as the next unit arrives. In theory they have failsafe mechanisms if someone stays on them beyond the top level. A university had a tragic accident when the failsafe didn't work.

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Re: "What happens, once lift 1 and 2 have reached their destination..."

yeah - cos taking 6 lifts to get to the 123rd floor is what the modern skyscraper is all about.

while you are waiting maybe you's like to hear my pitch for a confectionery based hot beverage maker......

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Any rope is the problem

""Willy Wonka: No, it's a Wonkavator. An elevator can only go up and down, but the Wonkavator can go sideways, and slantways, and longways, and backways..."

I have had a dream several times where a lift behaves like that.

In the back of my mind the seed is a customer site's lift system many years ago. I can't pin the experience down - somewhere in England. The lifts had been added to a rabbit warren of adjoining buildings that were only a few floors high.There was definitely something unexpected about the way their lifts travelled. My feeling is that they paused and rotated 90 degrees laterally at some point to get the entrance aligned for another floor's layout. A strange feeling in an enclosed space.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

the answer to that is easy....

He didnt think it out that far.

must be a VB programmer :-)

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Boffin

Re: Replace the "call" button on each floor with a keypad -

Heh. I've been at 3 buildings where this system is in use. Fair warning to y'all guys: each one of you riding on the elevator must key in the destination. The system will route you, but will only count one person. If you don't do that, it's pretty possible you'll get assigned to the one lift where there's only room for one more person, and the rest will have to wait. Or, you'll end up stopping at places where lots of people are waiting the lift.

At least there was a good feature in these: if the elevator gets actually overloaded, it will no longer stop anywhere but the actual destination of the people inside. W00t!

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Re: Any rope is the problem

Not quite ready to throw away the rope - especially at todays energy prices. If your concern is that there can only be one car per shaft then there is no reason that the upper car(s) can't have a vertical tube through which pass the ropes of the cars below. It means the ropes would attach to cars a little off centre wasting energy on the rails but that would surely be less energy than hauling the entire weight of the elevator around without a counterweight. As for the lift 1, lift 2 ... lift n scenarios; destination call key pads would help but it would have to be accepted that there would be traffic patterns where all cars could not be used. Alternately an aggressive system of acceleration and deceleration coupled with trapdoors in the tops and bottoms of the cars could allow them to exchange their contents - or less aggressively a Russian doll type system.

Modeling could to be used to determine whether the extra complexity of multiple cars per shaft was worthwhile - perhaps a VB program. However, given that such systems are rare (non existent?) it may be that the extra complexity of multiple cars per shaft is not worth the benefit and it is easier to train people to stagger their usage.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Any rope is the problem

I can report that, although strongly discouraged, it is perfectly possible to ride around the top and the bottom of a paternoster without being crushed or falling out. Never announce to your mates on the outside that you are about to do this, as they will invariably hit the emergency stop button while you are going around the dark bit at the bottom. Then you have to explain to the building maintenance people why you ignored the warning signs.

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Re: Any rope is the problem

Why don't you just use the stairs you lazy fucks?

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Re: Any rope is the problem

I'm reasonably fit, but after about 150 steps I'd be needing a rest and potentially a shower before starting work.

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hmm

Here in the west many don't know just what an amazing accomplishment Burj Khalifa is. Nearly 700 ft taller than any other man made structure including radio towers which don't even have fancy elevators and fire extinguishers and all that jazz. Yes many western companies help build it and yes it a screaming example of just how carried away Dubai got with the checkbook which it will be paying off for generations. Still the only the thing more amazing to me than this building is the fact Alain Robert has already climbed it.

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Re: hmm

There are many problems with the construction of tall towers that people just don't consider, and many of them are down to Pointy Haired Boss.

A few years ago I was working on a project in a tower in London, planning the CCTV installation, there were 1000 cameras in and around the building, needing to store 60 days standard def footage at a mixture of 12.5 and 25fps, we're talking over 1pb of capacity here, around 16tb a day, with RAID 6 redundancy it's a lot of storage.

Then the CEO of the building's owners decides he'd like a mirror of the live feeds in his office close to the top floor, and he'd also like mirrored storage up there as well.

Problem #1 there was absolutely no capacity in the cable ducts for a new fibre for the amount of data that would need to be zoomed up the the top floors, so we had to run an 8-core armoured fibre down the lift shafts and hope for the best, and #2 the system that we'd just spent almost £100k on didn't allow for mirrored recording, and he was insistant, so we ripped that out, spent £250k on a new system and my boss had £100k worth of CCTV recording kit he could sell to someone else...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: hmm

"it a screaming example of just how carried away Dubai got with the checkbook which it will be paying off for generations. "

What, like Japan, the UK, and most of Southern Europe? They've already had a "restructuring" of the debt on the Dubai World group, so somebody had a haircut of sorts, however you dress it up, and Abu Dhabi have bailed out the Dubai government.

So long as Abu Dhabi continue to backstop (and ultimately payoff) the Dubai debt, there's no problem. I doubt very much that Dubai can payoff the debt itself. If Abu Dhabi decide they don't want to be on the hook, then Dubai's debt goes pop, and the ultimate lenders take the hit. Who lent the money in th first place? I've no idea, but I'm sure the vermin at RBS have managed to ensure I'm on the hook for some of it.

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Re: hmm

Indeed, it was supposed to be the Burj Dubai until the money ran out and Abu Dhabi stepped in with a bailout and got the name changed to Burj Khalifa after Sheik Khalifa, ruler of Abu Dhabi and the UAE. Sheik Mohammed of Dubai still has his picture everywhere in the visitor centre, though.

Also, at the top you'd think they would use a waterless urinal, like they use in Ikea, since it takes a lot of energy to get water up there, but they use a US-style urinal that uses a US gallon per flush. Granted there's only one urinal for visitors, but even so, that's a lot of water being pumped up just to be flushed away again. Though, I'm not an expert so maybe there's some fancy system I don't know about that means it's easier/cheaper for them to have what seems to be a wasteful urinal than a waterless one.

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