At age 150 or so, elevators have already achieved many technological changes, speeding passengers up hundreds of floors with relatively little energy and in less space than ever.
But there are still new things the old lift can be made to do. That includes doing more to apply digital technology to inform passengers of problems or provide advertising and brief bursts of entertainment, the president of Otis Elevator Co. said Tuesday.
In his first interview since becoming president in February of the Farmington, Conn.-based subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., Pedro Baranda told The Associated Press that Otis has succeeded in building and selling elevators that use less energy than typical hydraulic lifts and that take up less space than before.
Still, elevators can do a better job of informing passengers and building managers and also of entertaining captive passengers. That could mean TV screens delivering advertising or, in the rare case of a trapped passenger, video conferencing with rescuers.
"We have a lot more things to do to improve the passenger experience," Baranda said.
Passengers have little to do for their few moments in an elevator, and their attention can be drawn to a programmable screen displaying generic advertising for a building or neighborhood or for meetings in a condominium.
"They tend to look at the screen," Baranda said of the passengers.
Building managers also can remotely download enormous amounts of information and fix elevators without sending repair crews, he said.
Baranda, who began his career at United Technologies in Madrid and was managing director for Otis in Spain and Portugal, says he sees no need for radical change at the industry's dominant elevator manufacturer, which began in the mid-19th century. But he promises to make "some adjustments" such as promoting new technology and expanded markets in Africa and Asia.
Otis posted revenue of $12.44 billion in 2011, up 7.4 percent. Revenue is expected to rise this year in the mid-single digits.
With China its No. 1 market for new equipment sales, a slowdown in that country's economy would hurt. The International Monetary Fund said Tuesday that China's growth is forecast to slow to 8.2 percent in 2012, a healthy pace but down from 9.2 percent last year.
Otis sees continuing strength and hired almost 400 sales people and service mechanics in China in the first quarter, Baranda said.
"That's the kind of growth we see," he said.
Otis is setting its sights on acquisitions in Africa and Asia, Baranda said. Despite little urbanization— and, therefore, not much need for elevators and escalators — and a comparatively low per-capita income, Africa is not expected to show much promise for a decade or so, he said.
But the company bets long-term, having entered China in 1888 and taking advantage of the first U.S.-China trade relationship beginning in the 1970s.
"I hope in 2040 someone will realize it was a good thing to get involved in Africa," he said.