The Rad Scientist – The Elevator


I know what you’ve been thinking, “I would be so thrilled to find a super rad kid who would be down to explain to me how the elevator works.” I’ve heard it all. No worries, I happen to be a super rad kid who can give you the low down on the mechanics and safety systems in the modern elevator.

When you think “elevator” you probably think of an elevator carriage attached to some cables on a pulley in a shaft. This kind of elevator is what we rad kids call a “roped elevator”. But there are other types of elevators, like the hydraulic elevator. The roped elevator looks pretty much like how you would imagine, with the elevator attached to between 4 and 8 steel cables, which are wrapped around a sheave in a control room. The control room also houses a computerized control system. (Fun Fact: The elevator control room is pretty much the hippest place to be, if you’re into that kind of thing, which I am.) In many roped elevators, counterweights are attached to the other side of the steel cables, which help the motor to conserve energy when it lifts the elevator.

As for safety features, many elevators have governors. Governors consist of flyweights attached to springs in the center of a wheel. The flyweights spin as the elevator moves. If the elevator gets a little too excited and starts to move faster than it should, centrifugal force pulls the flyweights away from the center of the device. The flyweights fly out and catch on ratchets attached to the wheel, triggering a stopping mechanism. All you need to know about governors is that they are pretty much the coolest thing ever, like that friend at a party who stops you when you get a little carried away (which I do). When the governor sheave doesn’t cut it, many elevators have electromagnetic brakes, which stop the elevator if the power goes out. Automatic breaks are also in place to stop the carriage if it wanders too far up or down inside of the elevator shaft.

How does the elevator know where to stop and where the floors are? I really wish that I could say that the elevator is sentient, but I cannot tell a lie. (Although I admit that the elevator is always there to talk to when you’re having a rough day.) Earlier I mentioned a computer which lives in the hippest-place-to-be control room. This computer logs your elevator request when you press a button. To answer your question, no, pressing the button multiple times will not make the elevator come faster. The computers that control the elevator’s movement have a few ways to determine where the car is in the shaft at any given moment. Some computers use light or magnetic sensors. Others use a sensor to read the amount of holes rushing by on a vertical tape, which moves along with the position of the elevator. Computers also control the speed of the motor that drives the elevator, changing the speed to create a smooth ride.

All in all, if you take anything away from this article, it should be that the elevator is a pretty cool machine. Be nice to the elevator, give it a hug, or even leave it a little treat once in a while. The elevator deserves it.

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