Robotic Parking Gains in U.S. Market

6 min read

Columnist Lew Sichelman explains how apartment owners, residents and visitors can utilize this new technology.

Lew Sichelman

The vast majority of parking garages are of the “old fashioned” drive-in, park-it-yourself, drive-out variety. But robotic parking systems are gaining a foothold.

It’s easy to see why. Apartment owners, residents and their visitors simply drive their vehicles onto a parking pad or tray, turn them off and exit. The robots take over from there. No muss, no fuss.

In a simplified explanation of how the technical wizardry works at the point, the pad moves the car to an elevator, which drops down (or, in some cases, rises) to a floor where space is available. Then the pad moves out of the lift and glides along to an empty or designated space, where it deposits its load.

When someone wants to retrieve a car, he or she uses a key fob or smart phone to alert the system, which delivers the vehicle within a few minutes. At that point, the car is ready to go when the driver arrives at the entrance where he dropped it off. Typically, the requested vehicle arrives within five minutes or less after being summoned.

Parking History

This kind of parking is not new. Wohr, a German firm, built the first one in 1959, 63 years ago! And they can be found all over Europe and the Middle East. Indeed, according to the Guinness, the largest system built to date handles 425 cars an hour—nearly seven a minute—at Al Jahra Court, a government office building in Kuwait that has a total of 2,314 parking spaces.

Robotic parking is not inexpensive, either, at least at the outset. A fully-automated system can run anywhere from $65,000 to $100,000 per space, according to one estimate, while one that’s semi-automated can cost $20,000-$40,000 per space.

But in a high-density urban center, it’s not unusual for a non-automated underground garage to cost $100,000 or more per space.

Residential Examples

Without automated parking, there wouldn’t be any at The Spire, a 41-story condominium that sits on roughly a quarter-acre parcel in Seattle. Now spaces, which are hard to come by in nearby conventional garages or on the street, are selling for $75,000.

In some rental properties, landlords are charging $100 or more for the privilege. But that’s only a fraction of what it would cost at nearby surface garages, so many residents gladly pay the freight.

There are only 100 or so fully automated garages nationwide, according to the National Parking Association. But their advocates say they save money because there is less excavation and no need for ramps or driving lanes. At Park + Garden, an apartment property in Hoboken, N.J., the need for 373 spaces was condensed from 10 underground floors into just four, not only cutting costs but also allowing for more rental units.

Because there’s no exhaust fumes generated by driving to an underground space, there’s no need for exhaust fans, either. And lighting can be reduced, too, because there is no pedestrian traffic.

Wohr, the German outfit, is also active in the United States. In Philadelphia, it outfitted the 65-car parking garage for luxury apartments at Rittenhouse Square. U-Tron did Park + Garden, where parking is advertised as an amenity, as well as projects in Houston, Boulder and Vail, Colo., among other places. Others companies in the space include Harding Steel and Robotic Parking, the builder of the record-holding Kuwait property where the system provides more than three times the number of parking spaces in approximately the same volume.

But the largest U.S. provider is probably ParkPlus, a now 53-year-old firm which started out in Queens building parking lifts. “We have 40-50 percent of the market, conservatively,” said Marketing Vice President Matthew Macris. “We have hundreds of projects in the U.S., including nearly 30 fully automated high-density parking systems.”

Robotic parking is suitable almost anywhere—from airports to factories, office buildings to condominium and apartment structures—where vehicles need to be deposited in a relatively small amount of space. A few well-heeled home owners have even installed systems at their houses. And MyPark, a Miami firm, makes a robotic space blocker that holds a parking spot for anyone willing to pay “a few dollars more” to reserve it. When the space renter arrives, a sentry-like mechanical panel folds down flat so he can drive in.

Macris is unable to quote an average cost because “each property is different.” But, he said, in “every property” where the company has installed one of its systems, “the savings have out weighed the cost” in terms of construction scheduling, materials, HVAC requirements and excavation.

“We’ve also been able to free up space for additional units and amenities,” he added.

Robotic parking systems come in four basic versions:

Automated Guidance Systems

These free-roaming, self-charging, omni-directional robots use traffic management software and lasers to manage storage and retrieval of vehicles on trays.

At Brickell House, a 46-story condominium building located in Miami, the building is being equipped with a ParkPlus AGV Automated Parking System. The 411-space garage will include 80 spaces equipped with charging stations. The installation is the tallest of its kind in the world, says Macris.

The project is actually a retrofit. It was originally designed with a 420-space system on 13 floors that broke down after only about a month in operation. ParkPlus has been able to design a working system using the existing lifts with only a few modifications.

The Vine, an 11-story, 135-unit rental property in Hoboken, N.J., uses U-Tron’s PACE AGS system for its three-level, 144-space garage. The high-performance system is made up of lifts, shuttles and entry/exit bay rooms equipped with automated doors and sensors which measure the car’s dimensions. Using the lifts, multiple shuttles move across the parking levels to store and recover cars.

Rack and Rail

Here, the robot travels along a fixed-rail system, shuttling cars to their intended destinations. The system also uses traffic management software, limit switches and lasers to manage storage and retrieval of vehicles, with or without trays.

The Lux, a 12-story apartment building in Madison, Wisc., is equipped with a 120-space rack-and-rail system on two subterranean levels. And at the Muse, a 51-story ocean front condo in Sunny Isle, Fla., a similar 208-space system rises 26 levels, making it the tallest of its kind in the world. Both properties were done by ParkPlus.

Puzzle Parking

This is a stacking system in which cares are stored in both vertical and horizontal arrays, one atop the other. The system consists of a self-supporting structural framework for self or attendant parking and retrieval.

Utron’s PUZZLE is a semi-automated system that allows independent access to every space.

Cars are stored and retrieved with vertical and lateral motion in a chain-driven stacker system. The system is said to be ideal for new construction or retrofit projects. Users can fetch their vehicles with a smart phone app, a touch screen terminal or a key fob.

The parking lot at 11 W. 28th St. in Manhattan, one of New York’s busiest, features a four-level ParkPlus puzzle system, which, in this instance, uses two separate modules on either side of the lot. Similar ParkPlus systems are used at the 221 West condo on the Upper East Side, the Two Ten West 77 condo on the Upper West Side and the multifamily 411 Bronx River Road in Yonkers.

Stackers

With this system, in-ground multi-level stackers store cars below grade. They lower vehicles on fixed platforms into a concealed vault so that additional cars can be parked above. Above ground, ParkPlus can store cars four high on platforms sharing common legs.

Westside Collectors, a storage facility for high-end collectables, features 18 indoor quad stackers, as does a VW dealership in downtown Montreal and the 98 Front Street condo in Brooklyn.

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