Philadelphia users of the near-ubiquitous escalator may have heard recent horror stories about riders injured or killed by the moving staircases. Escalators have ripped a big toe from a child in Singapore, have thrown off dozens of users in Washington D.C. and strangled a sushi chef to death when his hoodie got caught in the works at a landing platform.
The problem, said some industry observers, was that the design of the escalator hadn’t seen much improvement — or indeed, much change at all — since the original patent was awarded in 1892. This was due to the machines’ manufacturers having no real incentive to do anything differently. In 120 years since its invention, the escalator was modified to include safety devices such as deflector brushes, automatic sprinklers and emergency stop buttons. These, however, came only after 31 people were killed in a horrific explosion and fire on a London Underground escalator in 1987. Still, the basic design of the machines remains the exact same.