While the term "transportation infrastructure" usually conjures up images of highways and railway lines or bridges and tunnels, vertical transit facilities are becoming increasingly important even in spacious, land-rich nations such as Australia, given the increasing density of major urban centres and the proliferation of high-rise property developments.

Here is a rundown of some of the most eye-catching and remarkable innovations to emerge recently in the field of vertical transit systems:

  1. The World’s Largest Spiral Escalator

The developers of the Shanghai New World Daimaru Store have made the world’s largest spiral escalator the centrepiece of their new shopping mall’s main atrium. The vertical transit system extends across six storeys of the recently opened department store’s full 12-storey height, and consists of a dozen escalators arranged into a helix formation.

escaltorMitsubishi Electric, the developer of the elevator, has been producing spiral elevators for three decades, and its innovations in the area include the use of customised chains that are capable of responding to movement angles in order to ensure smooth, consistent motion, as well as a design which adjusts the centre of the spiral based on the gradient of the elevator in order to maintain stable speeds.

2. Solar-powered Elevators

A sustainable social housing project situated in the French community of Reze near Nantes will host a solar-powered elevator as part of efforts to ensure that the development is net energy positive. Otis’ Gen2 Switch elevator will derive more than 80 per cent of its power from a set of four solar panels installed on the roof of the eight-storey Les Bouderies housing projects.

While renewable energy is often pilloried for its unreliability, the Gen2 Switch elevator will be capable of operating even during blackouts, due to the installation of innovative solar-powered batteries that are capable of fuelling as many as 100 trips independently.

solar elevator

3. The World Trade Centre’s Ultra-Rapid Observatory Elevators

The new One World Trade Centre will be host to a total of 71 elevators installed by German engineering giant ThyssenKrupp, including five super-fast elevators running to its observatory that are capable of travelling at speeds as high as 37 kilometres per hour, enabling them to reach the 102nd floor in as little as time as a minute.

world elevatorThe chief innovations of ThyssenKrupp’s ultra-rapid observatory elevators are measures to ensure comfort and reduce noise, including minimising of vibrations by means of a guidance system, and the use of sound-proof materials in both the cabs and doors of the elevators.

4. Maglev-inspired Multi-Directional Elevators

ThyssenKrupp is also pioneering what could soon emerge as one of the most remarkable, definition-busting developments in the field of vertical conveyance systems – the multi-directional elevator.

The elevators derive their inspiration from Maglev systems such as the one first deployed commercially in Shanghai, and would use a single magnetic motor to laterally as well as vertically through a system of loop structures comprised of both horizontal and vertical legs.

vertical elevatorAccording to ThyssenKrupp, this increased capacity could radically increase the efficiency and convenience of elevator systems, with a cabin never more than a minute away from a passenger stop assuming a travelling speed of five metres per second.

The heightened efficiency of a multi-cabin elevator system could also translate into massive space savings, with ThyssenKrupp claiming it could provide a staggering 40 per cent more usable floor area in a multi-storey building.

5. The 20-kilometre High Canadian Space Elevator

Engineers in Canada hope to radically extend the scale and capability of elevator systems, transforming them from mere conveyance systems for high-rise buildings into gargantuan off-world launch platforms.

Earlier this year Ontario’s Thoth Technology patented the design for a space elevator that would extend as far as 20 kilometres into atmosphere from the surface of the earth, dwarfing even the loftiest of the planet’s geological formations.

space elevator

The proposed elevator would consist of an inflatable freestanding tower made from lightweight Kevlar-polyethylene modular tubes, held in place using pressurised helium gas.

At the core or on the sift of the structure would be a system of pressurised cars capable of delivering as much as 10 tonnes of cargo to the top of the tower for launch into space from a platform installed at its summit.