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Product Industrial Design
Brand & Visual Design
During the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, disease control was highly prioritized via implementation of social distancing and disinfectants on shared surfaces. Visitors, workers and residents of multilevel buildings were thought to be at increased risk of infection through the transmission of respiratory droplets on shared surfaces, particularly elevator panels. Universally, it was thought that elevator buttons are one of the most, if not the most, repeatedly touched surfaces in a multi-level commercial or residential facility and thus may be a major source of disease transmission.
The strategy to solve this problem in a scalable and universal manner had to consider many factors both from a user experience and integration perspective. The typical elevator user interface is quite simple, but has one critical drawback in the time of a pandemic - it requires physical touch to operate. It was clear that a device was needed to integrate with an existing elevator system, to provide additional functionality in the most seamless, and universal manner. One thing that was for certain is that this device could not rely on touch to operate.
There are many alternative interfaces and modes of operation that have been implemented on various products, below is an analysis of some:
Integration with existing systems was basically broken down into two potential avenues:
According to the factors above we have concluded that the parameters to a potential solution to the touchless elevator are as follows:
Why not simply create a voice module that integrates with the electronics within the elevator, thereby eliminating the need for mechanical operation? The answer is simple - scalability.
Elevator manufacturers service and warranty many locations and the complexity of overriding electrical, digital, and mechanical systems across multiple products and models would be a logistical challenge. Another aspect of a hard-wired integration should contemplate the impact of serviceability and liability of overriding existing electrical systems within elevators. All of these aspects may lead down a path of complex integrations, warranty liabilities, and safety challenges that ultimately slow down deployment and scalability.
We can address these issues by simply interfacing with existing elevators in an unobstructed way; just push the button. This ‘snap-on’ approach could significantly accelerate scalability across the province no matter the layout, model, or manufacturer of the elevator. It would be a truly universal solution that integrates across the board with a simple installation, operation and maintenance while maintaining the original ‘touch-based’ operation of elevators intact. An example in the home automation industry that closely relates to the design is called ‘SwitchMate’. SwitchMate enables a simple snap-on installation free of any wiring or complex integration with your existing electrical system. Simply snap on the product to an existing switch, and its mechanical interface essentially converts a dumb switch into a smart switch.
Now to closely consider who our customer is, we have to take a step back and see who the potential beneficiaries are of a touchless elevator system:
Ultimately none of these beneficiaries are in fact the customer, or decision maker, when it comes to upgrading elevator systems. They are, however, users of the solution. Landlords or Property Managers are ultimately the key gatekeepers to making a decision on elevator upgrades and thus we have to consider their thought process. After more careful consideration, the key aspects a touchless elevator solution would need to address are a quick installation and unobstructive operability of the existing elevator panel.
Floorsie is a speech operated robotic arm for equipping traditional elevators for touchless operation. A visitor, employee or resident would simply walk in an elevator to verbally say a command, like a floor number and the arm would press the appropriate button - simple. Floorsie is unobtrusive and doesn't physically cover or replace any aspect of the button panel itself - it simply tucks away allowing the elevator to be operating both in 'touch' or 'touchless' mode as needed. There would be no need to reconfigure any panels or rewire any aspects of the elevator electronics, which makes it easy to install or remove across various elevator manufacturers. The spirit of Floorsie is a solution that could be quickly deployed to a broad base to combat the COVID pandemic with minimal intervention or obstruction - a true snap-on solution. Floorsie is a two module solution:
Voice Operated: Each individual elevator requires an independent control arm to be installed on top of the elevator button panel. This module is operated by speech where voice recognition would turn a vocal command into a button press. The above graphic is a working prototype of a control arm built from 3D printer components.
Wave Operated: Each floor requires a proximity switch to be installed on top of the floor switch. This module is operated by waving above or below the switch to indicate if going up or down via proximity sensor that presses the appropriate button.
Landlords and Property managers would benefit from a simple snap-on solution that is both easy to install and maintain across multiple facilities. The upgrade to touchless elevators would be a benefit that could be a selling feature of the facility to address concerns of reopening high traffic buildings. The upgrade to Floorsie would not impact their existing equipment or elevators at all, and still enable touch-based operation if needed.
The control arm only has one visibly moving component and that was the horizontal arm that would span along the vertical axis. Within it a horizontal axis would carry an actuator switch that would engage with the elevator panel and push buttons. The horizontal arm would also have embedded LED’s to further illuminate the elevator panel should any of the machine components cast shadows. The horizontal arm would have motion detection on a step motor that would detect if a user’s hand was in its way. If so, the arm would quickly retreat back to its original position above the elevator panel. The horizontal arm would swivel 90 degrees counterclockwise to a ‘shipping’ position that would minimize shipping volume. The arm would also require simple installation with 2 anchors either glued or screwed into the elevator panel that would act as anchors for the machine. Electricity would be provided either via rechargeable battery or via 12 volt external power (tethered to lighting or camera system).
It was crucial to create a smooth, simple and approachable product from both a visual and functional standpoint. The material of choice used in this product was stainless steel which provides great rigidity and structural strength for repeated use but is also a COVID-friendly material. The brand ‘Floorsie’ was meant to be a playful and approachable whie personifying the robot and acknowledging its functionality of getting users to their desired floor. The visual direction was intended to show a clean and sanitary ('metallic') environment incorporating futuristic design elements.