Robotic car parks – how successful are they?

Source: Executivestyle.com.au
Source: Executivestyle.com.au

Automatic robotic parking garages have been popping up around the world from Miami to Denmark for many years.  Whilst they represent a sign of the times in terms of the development of technology and smart cities, their design and implementation can sometimes be problematic.

Take for instance what is considered the perfect car park in Miami Beach, USA, where club goers could park their Porsches, Audi’s and Lamborghini’s with a simple touch of a button, as reported in Executive Style.

Instead of the expected instant ease and reliability, reality hit local party goers when malfunctions in the car park lasted for hours.  Cars were smashed and faulty equipment fell several stories to the ground.  Some vehicles were stuck for so long that the owners of the car park facilities had to pay for customers’ taxis home.

Major Malfunctions

Whilst these high-tech “vending machine style” parking facilities sound ideal in our ‘rushed’ and spaced constrained world, it seems the design engineers still have work to do.   Although designs differ around the world, the majority of car parks consist of a combination of automated ramps, slabs, lifts and shelves, using a computerised system that parks and delivers cars.

In another incident in Miami, one of two cutting-edge parking projects ended in a disaster, where a $22 million robotic garage plagued with delays finally closed, leaving tenants to pay $US28 a day to park elsewhere.

The Issues

One of the main drivers for the development of these types of parking facilities is space efficiency, so they have proved very popular in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia.  However, in the US there seems to have been an issue educating users to use this advanced style of parking.  According to Ryan Astrup, from Park Plus “errors were common because drivers were unaccustomed to the technology, and some garage builders tried to duplicate foreign successes without understanding how differences in design can make or break a project”.

The disappointing thing is that for each project that has problems there are many more that go on without a hitch.  See for example the projects in Birmingham which Parking & Traffic Consultants referred to in our previous Wayfinding Forum Blog, in particular an automated car park in Birmingham and an interview with Cristina Lynn & Dr Barbara Chance of Chance Management Advisors on automated car parks.

Cristina Lynn with Dr Barbara Chance Source: parkingconsultants.com
Cristina Lynn with Dr Barbara Chance
Source: parkingconsultants.com

The Future

The former chairman of the International Parking Institute, Casey Jones, believes the ‘kinks’ will be worked out.  According to Jones, “they have to:  developers cannot keep paving over land for people to park their cars on”.

The technology already exists and has been implemented successfully in many projects around the world.  Jones continues, “we have elevators, and the concept is the same.  Elevators move people.  In robotic parking, those elevators move cars”.

Down Under

In Australia there are a few robotic car parks, certainly outside the realm of residential use.  The main factor so far has been the availability of space which makes it hard for a business case on automation to stack up against a traditional car park.  Another factor is the negative press that some high profile projects overseas get when things go wrong.  Even though as this article describes, a lot of the problems arise out of a lack of understanding of site specific issues in the design process and lack of education of users when completed.

As with all progress, it’s just a matter of time, right?

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