© Ralf Ruehmeier

© Ralf Ruehmeier

Sozialhelden win German Sustainability Award

The project collects real-time data on the functional status of elevators throughout Germany. The aim is to make mobility easier for many people in their everyday lives. The prize is being awarded for the eighth time in cooperation with the Federal Ministry of Educa­tion and Research (BMBF) and is dedicated this year to the priority topic "Urban Mobility". "It is a great honour to be awarded the Sustainability Prize alongside great names such as Greta Thunberg and Mick Hucknall. And we are particularly pleased that it is an audience award and that so many people voted for us," says Sozialhelden founder Raul Krauthausen following the announcement of this year's winners. “Because barrier-free planning is a major pillar of sustainability. Only those who can move freely in a society can help shape it," con­tinues Krauthausen.

The activist and wheelchair user sees the Elevate project as a good example of social respon­sibility on which business, politics and civil society must work together.


Lifts are designed to ensure that people with reduced mobility, such as wheelchair users, families with prams or people with heavy luggage, can move forward without barriers. How­ever, if for example no elevator is available at a subway station, or if it is out of service, peo­ple with reduced mobility face considerable challenges. Here, alternative route guidance is required. However, due to a lack of elevator data, routing services in particular have not yet considered whether an elevator is working or not. 

Comprehensive information service

Two years ago, the Berlin association Sozialhelden e.V. started a project with Elevate to inte­grate nationwide elevator fault reports into information services. The project is backed by mFUND from the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI). "As a first step, we wanted to see how digital elevators are in Germany and whether we can use the information on whether an elevator is working at the moment," explains Jonas Deister, pro­ject manager of Sozialhelden. 

The aim of the project is to create the conditions for a nationwide and comprehensive information service, Deister continued. The service should show travellers in advance whether or not the lift they want to use is functioning. In addition, this information could then be incorporated into standard routing services and travel information.

An online map for wheelchair-accessible places

To this end, the association cooperates nationwide with transport operators to collect information on elevator faults and to present this uniformly on websites. Wheelmap.org, an online map of wheelchair-accessible locations, shows in real time whether a lift in local public transport is operational or not. Currently, 3,331 elevators can be found on the online map. 

Some years ago, Sozialhelden launched the BrokenLifts.org project. Together with the Verkehrsverbund Berlin-Brandenburg (VBB), the S-Bahn Berlin and Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG), an overview page was put online to provide information on current lift problems. The BrokenLifts.org site has met with a great response, is visited daily by several thousand people, and won the German Mobility Award in 2016. "For us this was a motivation to expand the project and get even more data from elevators outside Berlin and Brandenburg, says Raúl Krauthausen, initiator of the project and founder of Sozialhelden, who himself uses a wheelchair: "Unfortunately, it still happens to many wheelchair users that they find an ele­vator in an S-Bahn or subway station that is currently out of service. This is always very annoying for the persons concerned, because it often means that they arrive too late or at least have to make unplanned major detours."  

In addition to the technical interface and the infrastructure, the association is with the Elevate project developing a solution for lifts which have not yet been digitized or whose operating status data are not yet automatically recorded. This is done with the help of a sen­sor which allows elevators to be retrofitted simply and cost-effectively and can thus be digitized: “With Elevate, we have created greater awareness of the need to digitize elevators and its added value for society," says Krauthausen. 

Elevate Delta – a further step towards digitization 

However, it is not only lifts in local and long-distance public transport that present people with reduced mobility with major challenges: in the new "Elevate Delta" project, the Sozialhelden association is working together with ubrich GmbH on further digitization: a sen­sor for elevators is planned that automatically transmits a radio signal when the elevator is defective and this data is then openly available. The aim is to retrofit old lifts at low cost - not only at train stations, but also in hotels, shopping centres, event locations and educa­tional institutions. "Our goal is also to enable barrier-free routing services," says Deister. 

In the new “Elevate Delta” project, the Berlin-based association is working together with ubrich GmbH on further digitalization, or more precisely on a sensor for elevators that automatically transmits a radio signal when the elevator is defective. This data is then openly available. The aim is to retrofit old elevators at low cost - not only at train stations, but also in hotels, shopping centres, event locations, educational institutions and much more. 

With the research initiative mFUND (Modernity Fund), the BMVI has been supporting research and development projects around digital data-based applications for Mobility 4.0 since 2016. In addition to financial support, the mFUND supports networking between play­ers from politics, industry and research as well as access to the data portal mCLOUD with various event formats.

The German Sustainability Award is the national award for outstanding achievements in sus­tainability in industry, municipalities and research. With seven competitions, over 800 appli­cants and 1,200 guests at the events, the prize is the largest of its kind in Europe. The award is presented by the Stiftung Deutscher Nachhaltigkeitspreis e.V. in cooperation with the Federal Government, local umbrella organisations, trade associations, civil society organisa­tions and research institutions.