Thursday, March 15, 2012
Student to market Shabbat elevator tracker
If observant Jewish residents of towering hotels and apartment buildings feel that waiting for the automatic Shabbat elevator is like awaiting the Messiah, there will soon be a solution.
A 24-year-old Jerusalem inventor and biomedical engineering student will soon market the first tracking device that informs would-be elevator users in their rooms or apartments when it will reach their floor.
Approved by rabbis for Shabbat use, the affordable wireless device is being manufactured in China. The system is patent pending in both the US and Israel.
Shlomo Friedman, who graduated from yeshiva high school at 16 and is the son of a dermatologist, started building “smart homes” – whose functions are monitored and controlled by a computer system – four years ago. Working for a family in a luxurious penthouse on the top floor of the capital’s Wolfson Towers, Friedman heard that they had to wait 15 minutes or more until the elevator arrived, as it moves only one floor at a time without human intervention.
According to Jewish law, one may not press the elevator button to call for it, or to open or shut the doors, on Shabbat or festivals.
The imaginative Friedman came up with the idea of launching a timer – as an offshoot of the smart home system – to tell the residents automatically how many minutes and seconds remained until the elevator’s arrival.
“Even though the apartment was gorgeous, with a private theater and jacuzzi and a breathtaking view, what the residents and their visitors were really excited about was the elevator timer,” the Jerusalem College of Technology engineering student told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Wednesday.
He decided to make it a standalone system using a small LCD screen for any apartment or hotel room.
“The waiting times are changed if someone holds the door open a while, so it remains accurate, and families do not have to wait near the entrance with baby strollers until the elevator finally arrives,” he said.
Called BeeOnTime (the website will be set up before Passover), the company says the unique technology doesn’t affect the speed of the elevator, which would violate Shabbat rules, but does report when it will arrive in real time.
Although the invention would be unlikely to interest nonobservant Jews or non- Jews, it is believed to have a potential market of 30,000 Israeli five-star hotel rooms whose owners would be willing to invest money to provide the service. There are also some 70,000 high-rise apartments in Israel that use Shabbat elevators and have religious residents, and there are uncounted numbers of tall buildings abroad where religious residents – in New York, Florida and other locations – bide their time near the elevator door until it opens. All of these could be customers, he said.
Friedman chose the Chinese manufacturing company without even talking to its representatives in person.
“I ordered components from five different Chinese firms and did it all by email, but I have an auditing company that guarantees quality and regular shipments,” he said. “There will be a one-year warranty, and the service should be offered after Passover.”
The Chinese who make the wireless electronic system, of which Friedman has 14 and has ordered 86 more, haven’t a clue what it will be used for, nor have they ever heard of a Shabbat elevator.
“I just provided them with my design and criteria for manufacture,” he explained.
“It has been a great pleasure to work with them.”
The technology can be adapted to any Shabbat elevator system, added Friedman, who does not have a Shabbat elevator at home because he does not live in a tall building, but who has been technology-oriented since childhood.
“As religious Jews tend to live in specific neighborhoods, there will be clusters of customers, so it will be easier to do marketing,” he said.
The custom-made, framed LCD screens, 16 cm. by 13 cm., can be installed in a few minutes over the top of an apartment door. They turn on automatically at the beginning of Shabbat, before sunset on Friday afternoons, and shut off on Saturday nights (they are also programmed to work on Jewish holidays during the week and to change automatically according to Daylight Savings Time). The initial interface is in English, but Hebrew and other languages can be added later.
The part of the system that informs the LCD screen, which operates on ordinary batteries, where the elevator is located is installed on top of the roof of the elevator compartment and is thus not visible, but can be accessed by a special key. The system is also encoded to operate only in a specific building, which discourages theft.
Friedman has been in contact with the leading Israeli elevator companies and received great interest and enthusiasm.
“I am going to run trial runs in several Jerusalem hotels in the next few weeks,” he said.
He plans to select buildings that his small team has chosen as potential clients.
“We will install infrastructure in the Shabbat elevator free and put a poster up inside. If there are enough customers who want to purchase the system, it will be worth our while,” he said. Secular Jews in the building will not have to buy the device.
“This is one of many products I’m planning on making, but this idea is the easiest to market,” Friedman said. “The more unique your product is, the less it will cost to market.”