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An ecosystem of opportunities

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” As digitalization opens up a world of new opportunities for traditional engineering companies, this simple observation attributed to deaf-blind American author Helen Keller holds truer than ever. By working together with innovative partners, KONE is looking to take the experience of moving through a building to a whole new level.

November 29, 2019

The elevator is often something we take for granted. Its significance is apparent primarily when it stops working. But what if the elevator could connect more than floors? What if it became the central platform of a smart building? What if other building solutions could be integrated with elevators to enhance the experience of moving around a building? What solutions would improve people flow from your perspective?

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This is the kind of thinking that prompted KONE to reach out to innovative companies in fields ranging from artificial intelligence to robotics to music, to start creating a dynamic partner ecosystem. The ecosystem’s common goal is to create the best possible experience for the different types of people moving in and between buildings.

KONE’s collaboration with BlindSquare is a great example of this: boosting building accessibility for persons who are blind or visually impaired by helping them ride elevators safely.

“Elevators already have Braille next to buttons, but very few people who are blind Braille,” says Ilkka Pirttimaa, CEO of MIPSoft, the company behind BlindSquare, a navigation app for people who are blind or partially sighted.

For someone with vision loss, the app is a life-changer. “The self-voicing app allows the user to call an elevator and go directly to their floor via guidance prompts,” says Pirttimaa.

Such technology is made possible by Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). APIs allow secure interactions between digital applications or systems so they can work together and offer new solutions.

“BlindSquare uses KONE’s APIs to integrate with our equipment,” says Jukka Salmikuukka, head of ecosystem business development at KONE. “The app can call the elevator, and the elevator relays information to the app. The phone says: ‘elevator door opens’ so people know when they can walk on.”

Just the beginning

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By leveraging existing interfaces, KONE is able to partner with developers to produce commercially viable integrations that add to the overall people flow experience. In the case of BlindSquare, there are plans to expand the collaboration from elevators to escalators: to use the app to direct the visually impaired to find the row of escalators in a metro station while the escalators relay their status to BlindSquare.

Today, the only way a person who is visually impaired can find which escalator they want is by touching the handrail.

“This is a safety risk,” says Salmikuukka. “In the future scenario the app will say ‘the escalator on the right goes up; the two on the left are coming toward you’.”

Pirttimaa hopes the partnership will continue to develop and even more accessibility features will be added to elevators and escalators.

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The same APIs used to connect the BlindSquare app to elevators can also be used by other partners – like those providing home automation systems, or service robots like Jeeves by Robotise. The APIs also enable KONE’s own applications, such as the KONE Residential Flow smartphone enabled building access solution and the KONE 24/7 Connected Services preventive maintenance solution.

KONE is constantly looking to grow its partner ecosystem in search of new, innovative services that meet the diverse needs of various groups of people. Building owners know their tenants and the people who use their buildings the best, and often have their own ideas how to help people move about in the urban environment.

“About half of our partners have been introduced to us by our customers, and some customers have their own apps which they integrate with our solutions,” says Salmikuukka.

Pirttimaa is happy that KONE has both the technical skill and willingness to work with developers. “It takes courage to do new things and we wanted to work with a courageous company,” he says.

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