back to article Elevating bork to a new level (if the touchscreen worked)

There are times when a bork is elevated from amusing to downright sinister. What code is lurking behind the scenes on your elevator? Register reader Rob Dyke spotted today's example of messages you don't want to see in an elevator while traversing the floors of London's Walkie Talkie building (or 20 Fenchurch Street). The …

  1. Def Silver badge

    ...after wondering how it is that a touchscreen is needed to operate machinery like this.

    Modern elevators have such screens so you select your floor before getting in. After selecting your destination, the system will tell you which elevator to take.

    This allows for more optimal travel as the system can group similar journeys together thus reducing all that tedious waiting around, making small talk that we have all had to endure thus far.

    The alternative is elevators that are afraid of the future and don't like going up under stressful conditions such as when the building is being attacked, for example.

    1. devin3782

      Not forgetting the ones which hide in the basement.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I’m waiting for elevators that get satisfaction when they serve you, or at least elevators with such sliding doors.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          elevators

          " elevator"

          To the tune "chant" of the Spam Song...

          LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...LIFT...and breath...

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I'm pretty sure that I've already seen button-operated elevators that are quite efficient in managing the wait time before the user gets to go in.

      A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything. It's the software behind that does all the work, and the software doesn't care if the button is physical or not.

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        "A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything"

        A touch screen provides two advantages:

        [1] it allows system design cock-ups to be rectified more cheaply and easily than a hard wired button panel does;

        [2] it's cheaper to implement than a hard wired button panel.

        Just like most "software engineering" these days, design decisions are chiefly for the benefit of the developer/vendor, not the client.

        However I often wonder whether design comes into it at all. In several office buildings I've encountered, the lifts have no (zero) controls inside the car. You have to select your floor while in the lobby and once you're in the car and the doors close you can't change your mind (not even open the doors and get out again). I've never been in one of these lifts during a breakdown, but it could be pretty scary.

        1. Def Silver badge

          Re: "A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything"

          They should still have an emergency access panel though, surely?

          Next time I'm in one I'll try and remember to have a look.

        2. 2+2=5 Silver badge

          Re: "A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything"

          > I've never been in one of these lifts during a breakdown, but it could be pretty scary.

          I've been in a traditional lift during a breakdown. It wasn't scary but the physical buttons didn't work either - that's why it was a breakdown. :-)

          1. John Sager

            Re: "A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything"

            I've been in a lift which broke down. Took an hour to get out. Luckily I was on my own so didn't have to spend an hour conversing with, or even consoling/calming other occupant(s).

            The scary bit was a lift on another occasion that carried on going up past my floor, and the next one, and hit the buffers at the top. After some reflection I hit the button for my floor and it dutifully went down to it and stopped. I did report the episode though what action, if any, was taken I have no idea.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: "A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything"

              I was in an elevator full of colleagues which stopped between the floors. I and one of my colleague might have contributed to the incident. I say no more. Anyway, while everybody else wanted to panic and/or wait for the rescuers, I and the aforementioned colleague, we pried the doors open and everybody was free to go. Moral of the story: always carry a pry bar.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: "A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything"

                ... and then everyone clapped!

          2. DJV Silver badge

            Re: "A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything"

            About 20 years ago I had a "close encounter" with a breakdown. It was lunchtime and several work colleagues (about 6 or 7, I think) piled into the elevator ahead of me to go down the 2 floors to the exit. I looked at the crush of bodies, ignored their "room for one more" and decided to take the stairs instead. After coming back from lunch I discovered that the lift had broken down and my work colleagues had spent around 45 minutes stuck in the elevator between floors until the call-out engineer had arrived to free them. They were far from chuffed, and I probably sniggered just a teensy bit!

          3. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Re: "A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything"

            Never yet actually been in a lift when it broke down, but I have been responsible for more than one "rescue". One place I worked at had Italian-made lifts that keeled over every time there was a blip on the mains and required a reset procedure which meant that someone had to go down into the winch room (it was in the basement) and manually wind the affected car to the nearest floor to get the people out before a reset could be done. Colleague had to stand in the lift lobby and report when the car was in the right place, then open the doors.

            Of course, it took a long time to diagnose "sensitive to mains spikes" and once done so, it was easily solved (other than the arguments over who was responsible for paying) by putting "smoothing" devices on the mains to the lifts.

            M.

        3. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: "A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything"

          [1] it allows system design cock-ups to be rectified more cheaply and easily than a hard wired button panel does;

          An elevator control panel tends to have one button[0] per floor that it can stop on[1], and any cockup in the mapping between the buttons and the actual floors, in so far as one can make them in the first place, can be corrected in the software behind the panel.

          [0] hard, soft, whatever

          [1] buildings with multiple elevators may have particular ones dedicated to specific (groups of) floors.

        4. corbpm
          Boffin

          Re: "A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything"

          Plus if someone adds another floor its easy to update the display to add an extra button (forward planning!).

          Plus its able to display adverts if you haven't subscribed to the premium "No-Adverts" package.

          Plus we had some lying around and we were bored with normal buttons.

          Plus good for page up/down for the next 25 floors.

          Plus you only see the floors your ALLOWED to see, that's why the stairs has 17 doors but only 12 buttons in the lift?

          Plus if your Chinese apparently you can hide the 4,13,14 buttons (apparently that's a thing!)

          1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: if someone adds another floor

            Oh, right. Happens every day, that, doesn't it ?

            I'm sure all buildings are built to ensure that any number of floors can be added on a whim. It's not like there are any structural issues, right ?

            1. Potty Professor
              Facepalm

              Re: if someone adds another floor

              One place where I worked, mid 70s, the manglement decided to extend the building out into the car park. Ground survey indicated that the subsoil consisted mainly of cullet (broken glass) from the old lamp factory, and would not support a building extension. An alternative was decided on, to add another floor on top of the original flat roof. This was successfully achieved, but they either forgot, or couldn't afford, to extend the lift shaft, so if your office was relocated on the new top floor, you had to take the lift to the old top floor, and then walk upstairs one flight. Remained like that until the whole site was redeveloped as an out of town retail park.

            2. corbpm

              Re: if someone adds another floor

              Might decide to dig down ?

              I understand there is a big white house in America somewhere that has had several subterranean levels added to one or more lifts, and a LONG time after the original building was completed.

              Maybe down is the new Up.

              So on the touch sensitive display you could hide even the presence of the floors by not displaying them whereas the buttons that don't work labelled "Secret Lair" would be a dead giveaway.

              Unless of course its Borked.

          2. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: "A touchscreen, by itself, is not going to enhance anything"

            In ye oldle fashioned lifts with buttons, you can still have hidden floors.

            I was working with the landlord at one point and he had a key which inserted into the lock on the panel gave two additional options. Turn to the left and go to the basement, and turn right and go to the roof level with all the A/C units etc.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No need for any fancy tech

      Just install a paternoster lift - I went to a university with one, a really efficient way to travel unless you're literally going to the very top of the building. If you're just going up or down a few floors, it's incredibly quick, next to no wait to get on, no buttons, just hop-on hop-off.

      Mind you, on the down side we had several students who disappeared over the top of the mechanism and were never seen again...

      1. Roger Greenwood
        Happy

        Re: No need for any fancy tech

        "Mind you, on the down side we had several students who disappeared over the top of the mechanism and were never seen again..."

        That's definitely a feature not a bug.

      2. John Doe 12

        Re: No need for any fancy tech

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8XjvTL3Wxo

        Definitely my favourite paternoster moment :-D

      3. Kubla Cant Silver badge

        Re: No need for any fancy tech

        I don't think I'd fancy a paternoster lift that serviced 34 floors. Either it would take half an hour to reach the top floor*, or it would move fast enough to amputate limbs from passengers who aren't agile enough.

        * and that's where the bar is

    4. TheProf Silver badge
      Angel

      Touch Screen

      Touch screen?

      Pfff! I'm waiting for the NCC-1701-D model to be installed. You just walk to the doors which immediately open to a nice plush comfortable space.

      Easy to operate control. Say "Bridge" in a commandingly stentorian voice and you're quickly transported to your destination with no fuss.

      Of course something like "deck 17, section 21 alpha" might leave you a little winded but you can get your breath back sitting in the wonderful arboretum.

      Sorry, what was the question again?

      1. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
        Pint

        Re: Touch Screen

        Yeah.

        I just want the doors to go 'swiiiisshh' as they open.

      2. MisterHappy

        Unless you are Scottish...

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAz_UvnUeuU

      3. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: Touch Screen

        Depending on the building, it will either be "Alexa, floor 6", or "OK Google, floor 6"

  2. b0llchit Silver badge
    WTF?

    Network missing AI

    The system was cut off to the controlling AI. Next step is to have a wireless connection? We are so close to make the lift a reality. Probably people will need to get killed before we can go back to a simple button.

    Alternatively, a wealth of questions will be shown on the screen before enabling the button-screen like: Would you like to move up/down with me? (y/N). What about going sideways? (n/Y). Should a meal be ready at your destination? (Y/n). Do you like the floor you are traveling to? (Y/n). May we offer a gift for your destination? (Amazon/WallMart/Local). Simply traveling to a floor is just sooo boring and unprofitable... where is the shareholder value in that?

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Network missing AI

      Alternatively, a wealth of questions will be shown on the screen

      "Would you like to post this uplifting event to your Social[0] Media? If yes then please enter username(s) and password(s) at the prompt.

      [0] Anti-, in reality.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Network missing AI

        And then there's the survey at the end of the ride - before the doors open.

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Network missing AI

          "Open the elevator door please HAL."

          "I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do that."

          1. Whiskers

            Re: Network missing AI

            "Please enter the authentication code we have sent to your registered email address. You have ten minutes, starting from now ..."

          2. b0llchit Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: Network missing AI

            You know there is a "door" at the bottom, don't you? My guess is that HAL would open it without hesitation while being at the top floor.

            You should be careful when specifying "door" to an AI. It may have unintended consequences.

          3. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Network missing AI

            "If you don't open that door right now I'll zap straight off to, errrhm, OK, never mind."

    2. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: Network missing AI

      I hardly think that a lift control system merits the epithet "AI" - any more than a traffic light control system. The mechanism is remarkably simple - a matter of building a table of floor requests and lift positions/directions and searching for best matches.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Network missing AI

        I have to, respectfully, disagree.

        With multiple lift cars and many floors, getting the optimal delivery of passengers to their desired destination in the most efficient manner is a tricky problem. I don't know whether it is NP-complete (complexity theorists advise, please), but just consider the complexity of, say 2,000 people entering a building with 20 floors and 20 elevator shafts each trying to get to their desks by 09:00 in the next 5 minutes.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Network missing AI

          “ 2,000 people entering a building with 20 floors and 20 elevator shafts each trying to get to their desks by 09:00 in the next 5 minutes”

          That was before COVID. Nobody wants to do that anymore.

  3. Antonius_Prime
    Devil

    Has anybody pointed these lifts out to Simon & Steven?

    The capacity & capability for "Hijinks" would be readily observable for those two fine gents...

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Has anybody pointed these lifts out to Simon & Steven?

      I bet they control it all... Even the error display is controlled from mission control, regardless of any actual error.

      1. My-Handle Silver badge

        Re: Has anybody pointed these lifts out to Simon & Steven?

        They do: https://www.theregister.com/2010/07/16/bofh_2010_episode_8/

        Just don't press 12

  4. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Reason for touch screen

    Which floor would you like (1)(2)...(36)?

    Please enjoy the adverts and count the number of times "Meatabix" is mentioned...

    Good news! The lift is here. Please enter the correct "Meatabix" count to open the doors.

    Enjoy you journey to floor (X) and pay attention to the adverts - there will be a test...

    1. Chloe Cresswell

      Re: Reason for touch screen

      Red Dwarf Xpress Lifts springs to mind.

  5. Red Ted Silver badge
    Go

    As the building is in the UK

    I think it should be called a lift, rather than an elevator?

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: As the building is in the UK

      "rather than an elevator"

      Strictly, both lifts and elevators are (semantically speaking) one-way devices. I'm not immediately sure what a "lift" should be called when going down, but when going down an elevator might more accurately be called a "subsider" or maybe a "depresser".

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: As the building is in the UK

        I'm not immediately sure what a "lift" should be called when going down

        A drop?

        Ah, more my style of drop =>

      2. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: As the building is in the UK

        Shirley it should be ' descender'?

        1. Ochib

          Re: As the building is in the UK

          Yes it should, and don't call me shirley

      3. Irony Deficient Silver badge

        lifts and elevators

        Strictly, both lifts and elevators are (semantically speaking) one-way devices.

        Perhaps the downward motion of lifts and elevators could be compared to negative acceleration, since acceleration is also semantically one-way.

        I’m not immediately sure what a “lift” should be called when going down, but when going down an elevator might more accurately be called a “subsider” or maybe a “depresser”.

        I’d call a downward lift a “sink”, and (on an etymological basis) a downward elevator an “egravator”.

      4. Dwarf Silver badge

        Re: As the building is in the UK

        It all about marketing.

        If they called it a plummet, then nobody would get in.

        I recall one place that had "Budget Lift Co" on the branding plates - was good to know that they had cut corners wherever they could to get the cost down.

        Its fun to try and figure out the maximum capacity rating when you look around a busy lift and realise that there are nowhere near that many people in it, yet its nearly at what normal people would consider to be full.

        It always makes me wonder if they simply do "total volume / volume of average person, or if there is some form of Tetris for lifts that marketing people use, just with real people.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: As the building is in the UK

      Shouldn't it be called not-a-lift?

  6. chartupdate

    No Signal Received

    I used to work in the Baby Shard which has identical software installed in its lifts. Late one evening on the top floor the control panels in the lobby all decided they no longer had network access and went offline, befuddling the single security guard on duty to answer the helpline phone. Myself and several colleagues literally had to use the service stairs to go down to the next public level in order to summon a lift to the ground.

  7. mark4155
    Mushroom

    Push the button!

    Reminds me of a recent Prime Minister Question time (PMQ's). I think Boris was laid up in number 10 doing his self-isolation bit for the country.

    Through the wizardry of science he magically appeared on screen in the House of Commons, after a few seconds of attempting to bluff his way out of giving a straight answer he managed to "Mute" himself.

    The rather tenacious Sir Lindsay Hoyle, occupying the speakers seat appeared to be bemused by the gaff and barked a command to BoJo "Push the button - Push the button".

    As you can see from the handy El Reg Icon Boris was playing with a full deck of cards that day and averted what could otherwise be a rather messy unplanned outage.

  8. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    messages you don't want to see in an elevator a lift

    I remember boarding a lift and being somewhat concerned to see on a plaque inside that it was serviced by the Economical Lift Maintenance Company.

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      And of course the ever-hilarious manufacturer of said elevators, Schindler.

      As in, “Schindler’s Lift”.

  9. _garfield_

    Smart lifts are nothing new

    If you've got nothing better to do for 20 minutes, you can find a promotional video for the experiemental lift system installed in BBC Bush House back in 1980 here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT0DyLmbxfM

    Having found the lift engineer in the Bush House bar a few times while I worked there in the noughties, I got to learn some of the lift's secrets:

    Through the traffic surveys shown in the video they ended up solving the problem of lift scheduling in offices of a certain size. They didn't install many lifts of this design themselves afterwards (Bush House was their demo system), but they made hefty royalties licensing the algorithm to the likes of Otis etc.

    The scheduling algorithm for the lifts shown is executed on Intel 8086 processors, coded in Microsoft BASIC.

    One of the designers of the algorothm, went on to become president of Iraq: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/haider-al-abadi-fixing-bbc-s-lifts-running-iraq-9672449.html

    And the most annoying habit the lifts had was knowing they were not 100% level, but waiting just long enough to announce 'Please mind the step', for you to have already found it. It often sounded sarcastic, anoouncing just as you were crashing into the back wall of the lift having tripped over the small step you were not expecting.

  10. Nunyabiznes

    Touch screen not necessary

    For failure that is.

    I had the great fortune of using an elevator in a hotel that was very ordinary. Buttons in lobby and inside unit. It stopped between floors and refused to open doors or continue on its journey. The emergency phone was designed to dial a hard-coded number when picked up. Great, except it went to a disconnected line.

    No worries, I have a cell phone! Very minimal service of course, and after finding the corner of the space where a call could be made I dialed up the lobby. Where the phone was apparently ignored. Repeatedly.

    Luckily I had my trusty multitool on my belt which I used to pry open the doors enough to get my hands in and pull the doors fully open. Scrambled out and got my quite flustered compatriots out.

    The hotel didn't seem to care they had multiple failures in a system and never responded to my queries. Just one more company on my list of places never to do business with again.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Touch screen not necessary

      "pry open the doors enough to get my hands in and pull the doors fully open. Scrambled out and got my quite flustered compatriots out."

      YIKES! Any elevator in that state of inoperability is not guarranteed to be aware that the door is open. In that scenario, there's no guarantee that it won't decide it's time to move to a different floor. If it does and you're in the process of exiting, you can end up with parts of you distributed among different floors.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Touch screen not necessary

        The apartment building I lived in as kid had a lift that would occasionally leave a door unlocked while the car was moving. I still have nightmares that I fall into that bottomless dark pit. (Well, not really, but awful that lift was)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Projector Of The Death Ray" sounds much, much better to me.

  12. DivideByZero

    Linking to paid content

    So tired of articles at one place linking to paywall/subscription-only content some other place. Kudos to Building Design for finding the candidates and presenting the award each year, but the link from this article could have gone to the wikipedia page for Cabundle Cup (which credits Building Design), instead of to a paywall page.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbuncle_Cup

  13. irrelevant

    In an emergency..

    Mrs irrelevant was stuck in one hospital or another for most of 2020.. I won't say which one this happened in, but the block her ward was in at one point had two lifts, one at each end. The lift nearest the main entrance was of of order, so it necessitated a fairly long walk through the ground floor labyrinth to reach the other lesser-used lift. This was a trip we got used to, her needing to step outside for "fresh air" occasionally, and me coming in to see her but not officially being allowed on the ward.

    Anyway, taking her back up one evening, secondary lift is sat on ground floor with its doors open. We go in, press the button, doors close, pause, and open again. Reasoning that it might be a sensor not registering a proper closure, we try again, and I give the door a helpful extra shove just as it closes, and it works, and keeps on doing so.

    Couple of days later, same problem. Except no amount of shoving or banging the door helps. As she's in a wheelchair, the stairs were not an option.. Phoned the ward, who called maintenance, who promised a visit next day.. In the meantime, they had to find her a bed on another ward she could get to.

    It was maybe just as well it failed while she was downstairs, rather than up, though I did wonder about the fire safety implications - it took them over two days to get it working. They eventually fixed the main lift, too..

  14. Blackjack Silver badge

    Honesty if there is one thing you DO NOT WANT to depend on an Internet connection to work in an elevator.

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