Unless someone comes up with a better way for groups of people to move vertically within tall buildings (pneumatic tubes, anyone?), elevators are here to stay in our rapidly urbanizing world. This alone is a testament to human adaptability, because elevators, when you really stop to think about them, are terrifying.
But maybe the elevator experience doesn’t have to land somewhere on a spectrum among awkward, mind-numbingly dull, and panicky. Lifteye, a startup out of Russia’s St. Petersburg State University, has developed a technology that breaks through the elevator’s fourth wall, and exposes passengers to a panoramic view of what’s outside the building.
Computer scientist Dmitry Gorilovsky developed the idea for Lifteye based on something known as computer vision—the process by which two images can be converted into a 3-D model, similar to how humans create a single panoramic scene with their two eyeballs. In order to install the technology, a building would have to place several cameras vertically along the façade as well as a sensor inside the elevator cabin to track its movements. The 3-D panorama created by the cameras syncs to the sensor, which shows passengers what it would look like if they were moving at the very edge of the building, with no barrier between them and the outside world.
"If you think of architecture as experience, the lift cabins are quite a strange place. You understand where you are before you enter the lift cabin, but after that it’s a bit like a black box," Gorilovsky says. "It’s not enough to build a skyscraper. You have to think about the whole experience of people within the building."
And yet, I’m not totally convinced this would be a more preferable experience for all. According to findings from the National Comorbidity Survey, fear of heights (acrophobia) is even more common than claustrophobia. For someone freaked out by heights, the only option would be to stand in the corner with your face to the opposite wall. Or take the stairs.
Still, Gorilovsky says that Lifteye has gotten quite a bit of attention from big hotel chains, though he won’t say which chains those are, yet. The technology, which would likely cost somewhere between $50,000 to half a million dollars, depending on the size of the building, will also be displayed at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s annual conference in Shanghai later this year.