Elevators date back to ancient times, when the Greek scientist and inventor Archimedes first came up with the brilliant idea of hauling a car up and down with ropes and pulleys. Along the way, there have been a few innovations — in 1853, most notably, when Elisha Graves Otis developed a safety brake that would stop an elevator from plummeting if the cable broke, thus making it safe to put elevators in tall buildings.
Subsequent inventors added features such as hydraulics and electric motors, making elevators smoother and faster. But essentially, it's still a piece of technology that Archimedes or Otis would at least vaguely recognize, because it uses cables and can only travel vertically.
Or at least, it used to be. In 2014, a German-based global industrial outfit named Thyssenkrupp unveiled an innovation called the MULTI, which dispenses with cables, relying instead upon the sort of linear motors that magnetic levitation trains use. That not only enables the MULTI to run multiple cars in the same shaft, but also enables the cars to move horizontally as well as up and down. MULTI would make it a whole lot easier to get around gigantic office buildings quickly, and also would reduce the number of shafts, adding about 25 percent to a building's usable space. Make sure to watch the video at the top of this article for an explanation of how MULTI works.
But MULTI's ability to move in any direction means it doesn't have just have to be used in tall buildings. According to Wired and Popular Mechanics, architecture firm Weston Williamson is contemplating utilizing the MULTI to move commuters around inside stations of the London Underground subway system, some of which are up to 200 feet (61 meters) beneath street level. This video from Thyssenkrupp explains how MULTI could be essential in the world of mass transit.
As Weston Williamson co-founder Chris Williamson explained in a June 7 panel discussion, MULTI "has the potential to redefine existing infrastructure, and open up unprecedented levels of access both in-between platforms, and from the platforms to the world above."