Elevator Technology knows how to transport people effectively inside buildings. For BMW’s Research and Innovation Center (FIZ), the IT experts have now designed a complete transport solution – complete with self-driving robo-taxis.
A vast corporate site in Munich North. On a stretch of land the size of 130 soccer fields, there is row upon row of buildings. The trapezoidal main entrance stretches like the stern of a stranded spaceship across a courtyard fringed with trees.
The reference to space travel is not so far-fetched. Granted, the people in these sometimes futuristic-looking buildings are not busy working on rocket propulsion systems or orbital gliders. But the future of mobility is definitely their line of work. They are developing innovations for BMW in the field of vehicle technology. The automobile manufacturer has consolidated its research and development activities at this Munich location. Approximately 15,000 people work at the Research and Innovation Center (FIZ).
thyssenkrupp Elevator deals with the future of mobility, too. Expanding metropolises with high population densities need transportation concepts that more effectively combine individual and public transport, road and rail, and horizontal and vertical movement. Not only does Elevator have the technical solutions to meet these needs, such as the MULTI cable-free elevator system or the ACCEL walkway system, but it also has the prerequisites for organizing traffic flows.
This is the point where the automotive group and the elevator maker cross paths. BMW wants to expand the FIZ, and it is facing the challenge of optimizing how a future staff of 30,000 people will move around on the premises. Today, each employee already covers an average of up to 600 meters per day on foot. That quickly adds up to a total of 9,000 kilometers.
So there is a clear need for an idea on how to control the flow of traffic. “And it didn’t take us long to decide on thyssenkrupp Elevator as the right people to get in touch with about the problem,” says Martin Keil, a specialist at BMW for the development of transport and mobility services. How does that work, then? The experts in vertical passenger transportation are somehow supposed to provide solutions for horizontal traffic flows on level surfaces?
But of course! Elevator is experienced at developing concepts for passenger transport – and at precisely calculating in advance the need for modes of transportation such as elevators, escalators, and so forth. “Before we plan an elevator system, we simulate the traffic flows based on the anticipated user numbers, peak times, movement patterns, and available space, and then we orient the system accordingly,” says Thomas Ehrl, Head of Research at Elevator. This is standard practice in the industry and is based on simulation software used by almost every elevator manufacturer. The software makes it possible for Elevator to calculate how many installations a new building will need, what size they should be, and what controls they should use. “When BMW approached us with the request, our first thought was that it’s not really all that different from a skyscraper; all we have to do is lay it on its side,” says Ehrl. But simulating traffic movements on company premises the size of the FIZ is considerably more complex. Especially if the simulation is supposed to factor in the use of self-driving electric cars known as robo-taxis.
Software simulates movement patterns
“We quickly realized that we weren’t going to get anywhere by using the standard software,” says Ehrl. Together with experts from Georgia Tech University,
Elevator therefore developed a program that can model a building plan and simulate movements in a predefined area. The program enabled them to determine the most effective traffic solution for each scenario with a reasonable amount of configuration effort. To start with, the traffic flows were measured in detail and transferred to what is known as a travel matrix.
“When you know the movement patterns at each point in time, you can plan stops and routes,” says Ehrl. It goes without saying that it’s not economical to have an electric car standing at every corner. “But we do have to make sure that the intersections are covered,” says Ehrl. They worked on the software for a year, and at the end of the process they had arrived at a concept in which four robo-taxis and a network of 11 stops are sufficient to manage the traffic volume. They call their model the People Mover. And in an area that is particularly prone to time-consuming foot traffic, Elevator integrated its ACCEL walkway into the model – virtually for now, but BMW seems to be impressed by the system.
BMW mobility expert Martin Keil reports that working with thyssenkrupp Elevator has taught him a great deal about how to organize the traffic volume for 30,000 people in a high-density space such as the FIZ. His dream is to develop a self-learning system that can analyze and organize requirements for modes of transportation. “We want to understand the routes,” he says, “so that the proposal can be tailored precisely to the request.” Thanks to the simulation program from Elevator, Keil is now a little closer to ‑that goal.
And Elevator now has a tool that will enable it to offer mobility solutions for horizontal surfaces, too.