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Robotic Parking Anyone?

A range of automated systems have freed us from having to park our vehicles

As innovation drives the cost of technology down and increases the efficiency of our infrastructure, we are seeing more and more intelligent automation, both in our cities and on our roads.

Our cars are now equipped with GPS navigation systems, emergency alert systems and a range of other services that increase our safety and security. Parking lots, on the other hand, have not changed much since the 1970s. They are often the same old structures integrated with automated payment systems. Newer parking lots also have systems that tally how many places are free and on which floors and, in some cases, even provide this information on-line in real-time.

Nonetheless, increasing land prices, larger cars and outdated car parks pose a challenge. Urban areas always seem to be short of parking spaces, while drivers expect more comfort and convenience. Indeed, many cities around the world have begun introducing fully automated car parks that allow customers to drop offer their car and leave robotic devices to do all the manoeuvring and parking. To date, there are two main types of automated parking lots.

The first type resembles a typical multi-story parking lot, but maximizes available space by allowing cars to be neatly arranged side by side (i.e., without having to leave space for the driver or passengers to get out of the car).  Laser-guided robots slide under vehicles, pick them up, move the vehicles to their parking slot and gently park them, even in the tightest of spots. This type of automated parking system is currently in use at the Dusseldorf Airport in Germany (see video).

A far more advanced automated parking system has been developed in extremely crowded cities such as Tokyo and is now spreading throughout big cities in China, too. In this case, cars are dropped off by the driver and a “lift and slide” mechanism delivers vehicles to underground (or in some cases above ground) parking cubbies, much like automated systems do with mail.

For the future, we can look forward to the promise of self-parking cars. Driverless cars that can drive themselves to parking lots outside city centres, thereby decreasing congestion and parking costs, and return to pick the user up exactly when required. For the moment, we have cars that come equipped with parallel parking systems. So, whichever way you look at, we will soon be able to forget all about parking.

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