Kidnapping, or just camera-shy?
May 3, 2019 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Traveling up in an elevator from the ground floor, I noticed something interesting in only one of the 4 ceiling corners, by the lights. A little before I reached my floor, I snapped a picture of it with my phone, wanting to zoom in later to figure out what it might be.

Immediately after I snapped the photo, the elevator stopped its upward movement, paused for a few seconds, then started going down. I tried pressing all the floors' buttons but their lights did not stay lit. It continued directly to below ground level, where the doors opened, and it did nothing more, apparently squatting in the basement sulking. After a few seconds, I pushed my floor's button, and it went back up like nothing happened. Except, what happened?
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra to Technology (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I dunno what happened but that looks like it could be an emergency light that comes on in case of a power failure.
posted by moonmilk at 12:48 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]

Security guard playing a prank on you? (Not that I think it’s funny, that would have freaked me out!)
posted by sallybrown at 1:23 PM on May 3

Warning: I am making crap up. Any chance your phone camera has an IR beacon that is used for autofocus, and that ceiling device has a sensor that was triggered by the IR? Like your phone somehow mimicked a signal that it would get as an external command? Basement is weird, because that's a maintenance location, not a safety/emergency exit kind of thing.
posted by aimedwander at 1:48 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]

Warning: I am also making crap up.
Is the basement location plausible as a fire department access point, or building evacuation point? Elevators have a "recall" mode that is designed to be triggered in the case of fire, and takes the elevators to a safe point for the occupants of the elevator to evacuate, or for the fire fighters to access the elevator for their use. It's supposed to be triggered by smoke/fire/heat detectors, or keyswitches activated by the fire department. The behavior you describe could plausibly be the programmed recall behavior for your elevators, assuming that the basement location makes sense as either an evacuation point or a command post for the fire department during a building fire.

I don't have any explanation as to why you taking a picture triggered the recall, though. Perhaps it was coincidental, and there was a malfunction elsewhere in the system at the same time? You could report this to building maintenance and see if they have any ideas.
posted by yuwtze at 2:19 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

Do it again! Um, stash a friend in the lobby tho.
posted by aw jeez at 2:21 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]

Did your camera flash go off? If so, that might have read as bright = fire to the sensor.
posted by carmicha at 2:27 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

Try it again and see if you get the same result!
posted by McNulty at 2:38 PM on May 3 [10 favorites]

As unnerving as it was for the elevator to suddenly misbehave, I think it was a coincidence. That’s not a camera. Actually it looks like the light strip that could go behind the elevator floor numbers above the door? Perhaps the old incandescents were retired and replaced with LEDs? How many floors in your building?
posted by lemon_icing at 8:57 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

Do it again. Y'know, for science.
posted by GeeEmm at 5:05 AM on May 5

Well, I just tried it again, and nothing strange happened. Must have been a coincidence!
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 9:33 AM on May 8 [4 favorites]

Thanks for the followup!!

I was wondering if the deafening silence since my last post was a result of your lawyer having difficulty getting you bail ... but I am glad to hear that not only are you not in the slammer, but nothing else untoward happened!!
posted by GeeEmm at 2:05 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]

It just took me that long to find time and opportunity to try it :) I'm seriously tempted to try again.

Also, I forgot to answer other questions. No, the flash didn't go off, and no, the basement isn't a good spot to stop for an emergency.
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 5:53 AM on May 9

There are only two wires going into the device. Assuming you are in North America, white and black wires like that are AC power, a hot and a neutral. There's no other cables for data so that rules out the device being any kind of sensor or camera because there's no way to send data out of the device to the elevator control computer or elsewhere (and wireless doesn't work well in elevators as it's a metal box). So I don't think taking a picture of this gizmo could cause it to change the operation of the elevator.

If you want to ask the experts, Elevator Trader is geared to professionals and has a forum. There are also elevator enthusiast communities on the internet that you could reach out to on twitter / instagram or email an admin for help at Elevatorpedia.
posted by peeedro at 5:06 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]

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