A conceptual rendering of ThyssenKrupp's new Multi elevator system in application.
ThyssenKrupp Elevator A conceptual rendering of ThyssenKrupp's new Multi elevator system in application.

The dream of the horizontal elevator is no longer the stuff of sweet, candy-making fiction. Last week, German company ThyssenKrupp unveiled a Wonka-esque prototype system that allows multiple elevator cabs to move vertically and horizontally in a single shaft. The result: elevators that can operate at a higher capacity while taking up less relative space, particularly in the service of super-tall buildings whose forms have been constrained by the technological and financial limits of internal transportation systems.

What makes ThyssenKrupp’s proposed system, the Multi, unique is that it doesn’t require the heavy steel cable typical of conventional systems, which adds weight with each additional story that ultimately restricts the length of a cab’s continuous run (and is why many tall buildings require passengers to transfer halfway up). Instead, each Multi cab is suspended magnetically above a track and is propelled by a series of linear motors—a process that the firm’s research head, Markus Jetter, likens to that of an urban metro train. Horizontal track transfer systems (top image) at the top of the building, or at any floor within, create a continuous travel loop. And carriages pick up passengers every 15 to 30 seconds, reducing time spent waiting.

“After 160 years, we are moving away from the cable-dependent elevator,” said Patrick Bass, CEO of ThyssenKrupp’s North American business, in a statement. “Buildings can now evolve, reach new heights, shapes, and purposes.”

The Multi combines the company’s Twin elevator system, that allows two carriages to share a single shaft, and the decades-old (and somewhat frightening) Paternoster concept, in which cabs moved like a ski lift up and down a building and let passengers hop on and off at each floor. Unlike the Paternoster, however, the Multi cabs are fitted with doors and come to a full stop at each floor.

ThyssenKrupp says it will have a working Multi prototype by 2016, which it will test at its facility in Rottweil, Germany. The company also launched an online information portal focused on urban development.

Kone's carbon-fiber UltraRope debuted in 2013.
Kone Kone's carbon-fiber UltraRope debuted in 2013.

ThyssenKrupp isn’t the only elevator maker seeking to evolve its technology to meet the needs of tall buildings in burgeoning urban centers. In 2013, Finland-based Kone announced that it had developed a carbon-fiber rope (above) that is 60-percent lighter than its steel counterpart when traveling an average maximum run of 500 meters, while cutting energy consumption by 15 percent. The company hopes that the technology, which is currently installed in the Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore, designed by Moshe Safdie, FAIA, can allow cabs to travel up to 1,000 meters continuously.

Taken together, the developments offer a glimpse of the elevator of the future, where lightweight cabs and streamlined transport technology work efficiently to sweep an ever-growing number of city-dwellers off sideways, and slant-ways, and long-ways, and back-ways, and square-ways, and front-ways to their destination.