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my big book of little catastrophes
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9th Floor - Imponderables 
30th-Jun-2005 12:23 pm
micahblitz asked why people push an already lit button when getting on an elevator.

People naturally do irrational things when faced with situations they can't understand, since there is no rational action to take and people want to do something. Elevators are among the most poorly designed interfaces our civilization has produced. Since they don't give immediate feedback as to the result of button pushing, people make up superstitions as to the effect of their actions. Also, there is no button to push to signify that you got on the elevator and you are happy with the currently lit buttons, and since there is no countdown timer to tell when the door will close, people want to do something to get the damn thing moving.

A well designed elevator would incorporate the following features:

- Visual/motion sensors to detect when the elevator was empty so it could clear the stop queue, when someone stepped on so it could go already, or when a lobby was empty so it could skip stopping there even if the call button had been pushed or could wait a moment when someone was rushing to catch a car.
- A countdown to show when the doors will be closing.
- A CLOSE button that actually does something, like makes the doors close right away.
- The OPEN and CLOSE buttons should be huge and easy to swat with an open palm.
- The ability to cancel a request to stop at a floor, for when you hit a button by mistake or change your mind.
- An indicator to show which floors the elevator will be stopping at because someone called the elevator from that floor.
- A HURRY button that would take you to your floor without stopping along the way. (wishful thinking, maybe)

Most importantly, the routing software should be optimized to reduce people's time waiting for and traveling on the elevator.

Here's an example of what not to do: The office building I work in has the most stupid design I've ever seen. There is always a car at the ground floor lobby waiting with its doors open. You get on and push a button, then wait a random amount of time until another car arrives at the ground floor and your car is released to depart. Someone decided that having an open door at the ground floor at all times was a requirement, so even if 8 people are in a car and have all pushed buttons the car won't budge until another arrives, even if no one is waiting in the lobby. And there is no timeout. A car will wait as long as it takes for another to arrive. Sheer idiocy!

Things that can help: Say someone calls for an up car on floor 3. If a full car is ascending from floor 2, every system I know of today would stop that car at floor 3 for a pickup. But if there is an empty car stopped at floor 2, it would be better to let the full car continue past 3 without stopping and instead summon the empty car from 2.

Even better - if when calling a car you could say what floor you want to go to, rather than just up or down, the routing software could be smart. If two cars were passing your floor, it could stop the one that was already going to the floor you want to go to. This may seem like trivial stuff, but think about some of those giant towers and how much time is wasted due to poor elevator routing.
30th-Jun-2005 08:38 pm (UTC)
>Most importantly, the routing software should be optimized to reduce people's time waiting for and traveling on the elevator.

Amazingly enough, this is already true of most modern elevators. I agree with all the rest though... :)

30th-Jun-2005 08:51 pm (UTC)
Yes, I know that's what they try to do, but they don't really have the right information to do the job well. It would be interesting to see if you could train an elevator system to optimize itself for its buildings traffic patterns and be sensitive to time and even day of week. For instance, my old building used to home the cars on the ground floor, which made getting out of the building at lunch a long wait. What do you think - are today's AI systems up to the job?
1st-Jul-2005 01:15 am (UTC)
The elevator in my building (here in Seoul, for those who don't know where I am) does two and a half of the things you mentioned. The open and close buttons work. You can also cancel a floor by pressing its button a second time: the light behind the number goes off, and if you don't press it again, you won't go anywhere. The half-feature is interesting: there are two elevators in this building, and they both stop at the first floor, but if you're going up, one only stops on odd-numbered floors and the other only stops on even-numbered floors. Descending, you can get off at any floor you like. No one has explained why but I assume it's a surreal Korean attempt at efficiency. The useful open/close buttons and the ability to unselect a floor by pressing its button again are features I've seen in other elevators around here. No one here looks at each other in elevators, either, although occasionally if I rush to make it before the doors close, and a Korean person is already inside, he or she will bow -- I guess in apology for not noticing me and holding the doors.
1st-Jul-2005 04:21 am (UTC)
ugh... most elevators suck. I'm one of those ppl who will push a lit button (if my floor is already lit) when getting on only because some elevator software is trained to stay open xseconds OR until a floor button is depressed (old apt building being one of them). I will also sometimes press the button twice because I've been on elevators that will close immediately on a second press. Perhaps some programmer did that as a means of finding out if someone was in a hurry.

The close door button is probably not well marked. In its current function, it is usually only operable when the elevator is in firefighter mode, when the doors are set to operate manually.
1st-Jul-2005 04:39 am (UTC)
That's what I mean. Different elevators operate in completely different ways, it's unpredictable how a given elevator will work, and there is no feedback that your actions are having any effect. Thus superstitions: "I press the button twice because some elevators work like that."
1st-Jul-2005 05:50 am (UTC)
Agreed, there is no convention. Though, I wouldn't consider pressing the button twice as superstitious as some elevator firmware does indeed work that way... which isn't to say that all people press it twice for that reason. I for one will generally press once, wait to see if it closes. If not, I'll hit it again. Sometimes if I'm in a real hurry, I'll hit DOOR CLOSE after that, but more times out of not if it closes at that point, it's just coincidence. I've seen very few elevators where the door close button does anything other than make someone feel better in "Run" mode!
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