App used in multiple industries enters elevators with user control via sound
by Roland Storti
The world was becoming increasingly contactless prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic has bred an entire ecosystem of innovators and startups working to eliminate public touchpoints. Some have started from scratch, while others have repurposed their technology to address the current crisis. Your author, Minfo founder and CEO, came up with the idea for Minfo in Melbourne, Australia, in 2011. I wanted to purchase a product I heard about in an advertisement while driving in heavy traffic but couldn’t safely write the number. “What if I could get more info sent to my phone with one tap or voice command?” I wondered.
Minfo has evolved in these nine years since its inception and now uses patented audio technology to provide a universal app enabling touchless interfaces, allowing people to use their phones to control a wide range of Minfo-enabled devices, including elevators. Elevator operators, property managers and landlords partner with Minfo to integrate with it and allow visitors, employees and tenants to control their elevators using the app.
Minfo strives to make it easy for its partners to use their own branding within the app. It uses sound — some audible and some inaudible — to connect Minfo-enabled devices to it. Every floor and elevator is assigned a unique audio file, like an audio QR code. When a user approaches a Minfo-enabled elevator lobby — denoted by a decal — they can open the app to call the elevator and request a level. The app then communicates to the elevator controller, makes the request and informs the user which elevator is on its way. When passengers enter, the floor they requested is illuminated on the inside panel. Some elevators may work in a two-step process of calling an elevator from selecting "up" or "down" on the app and then, when in the elevator, connecting again and selecting the floor on the app. Installation is simple: existing speakers or small MP3 players are installed in each elevator lobby (or, in the two-step process, in each elevator) to transmit the audio QR codes creating the Minfo zones.
In addition to the convenience of allowing passengers to control the elevator from their own phones, the product reduces the spread of germs. The pandemic created plenty of hygiene anxiety among people worldwide: 54% of the 511 epidemiologists recently surveyed by The New York Times said they expected it to be three to 12 months before they work in shared office spaces again. That is likely driven by the fear of spreading or contracting germs transmitted on frequently touched public surfaces like elevator buttons.
Even as U.S. states continue lifting precautionary restrictions and allowing more use of common retail and office spaces, building owners and property managers must reassure nervous consumers and employees that they are doing everything they can to reduce the spread of germs. As a result, many are looking for ways to eliminate mutual touchpoints, so elevator buttons should be a leading candidate. Landlords face a similar challenge, as prospective tenants will surely add cleanliness to their list of considerations (if they hadn't already) when viewing new units. Offering current and prospective residents the option of not touching elevator buttons will go a long way toward retaining and attracting them, safeguarding landlords’ income streams.
The race to reduce germs is well underway, and one of the quick fixes that has emerged is the no-touch key trend. These types of devices may be convenient for people to carry around in their pockets or on their keyrings, but some of them are made of metal, which can scratch elevator buttons or touchscreens. The repairs and downtime this could cause compound difficulties moving people efficiently to get home or to their workplaces, on top of restrictions on the number of people in an elevator.
All of these are important considerations for owners and managers, but this is a health issue for everyone who uses elevators — employees, visitors and tenants. Eliminating the need to touch heavily trafficked elevator buttons is not only a sound measure in response to the pandemic, but an investment in health for decades to come.
There will be growing pains as economies continue attempting to return to something resembling normal. It may feel like there are more questions than answers, but one thing is certain: there are not many things touched more frequently and by more people than elevator buttons. The elevator industry and all who rely on it have a responsibility to protect passengers by giving them the option to go touchless.
 Margot Sanger-Katz, Claire Cain Miller and Quoctrung Bui. "When 511 Epidemiologists Expect to Fly, Hug and Do 18 Other Everyday Activities Again," The New York Times (www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/08/upshot/when-epidemiologists-will-do-everyday-things-coronavirus.html).
 Max Berlinger. "Germophobia, But Make It Fashion: The Rise of the No-Touch Tool," GQ (www.gq.com/story/coronavirus-no-touch-tools-trend).
Roland Storti is founder and CEO of Minfo Americas, a provider of advertising solutions that create impulse engagement. Prior to founding Minfo in 2011, Storti served as CEO of Linked Business Concepts, architecting the 360PM Computerized Maintenance Management System, which serviced more than 25,000 sites and 7 million m2 of property, including 1,630 schools, since 2002. He is an alumnus of RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.