Robot Parking Garage to Open in New York

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By PETER SVENSSON
The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 30, 2007; 11:13 AM

NEW YORK -- Would you trust a robot to park your car? The question will confront New Yorkers in February as the city's first robotic parking opens in Chinatown. The technology has had a good track record overseas, but the only other public robotic garage in the United States has been troublesome, dropping vehicles and trapping cars because of technical glitches.

Nonetheless, the developers of the Chinatown garage are confident with the technology and are counting on it to squeeze 67 cars in an apartment-building basement that would otherwise fit only 24, accomplished by removing a ramp and maneuver space normally required.

A humanoid robot valet won't be stepping into your car to drive it.

Rather, the garage itself does the parking. The driver stops the car on a pallet and gets out. The pallet is then lowered into the innards of the garage, and transported to a vacant parking space by a computer-controlled contraption similar to an elevator that also runs sideways.

There is no human supervision, but an attendant will be on hand to accept cash and explain the system to baffled humans.

Parking rates will be competitive _ about $400 monthly or $25 per day, according to Ari Milstein, the director of planning for Automotion Parking Systems, the U.S. subsidiary of Germany's Stolzer Parkhaus, which has built automated garages in several countries overseas and in the United States for residents of a Washington, D.C., apartment building.

Another company had built the only other public robotic garage in the United States, the one with a checkered past.

Built in 2002 across the river in Hoboken, N.J., with 314 spaces for monthly rentals only, the garage dropped an unoccupied Cadillac Deville six floors in 2004 and a Jeep four stories the following year. Early last year, a malfunction that went unrepaired for 26 hours trapped cars inside.

This summer, the city of Hoboken tried to wrest control of the garage from its builder, Robotic Parking Systems Inc. of Clearwater, Fla., and an ensuing court battle shut it down for two weeks, trapping some cars inside. The garage is closed until Thursday as the city replaces the controlling software, city spokesman Bill Campbell said.

Dennis Clarke, the chief operating officer at Robotic Parking, acknowledged the operational problems, but said the garage has operated with "99.99 percent efficiency." He called the 26-hour outage a freak incident, where two redundant sensors failed at the same time and a maintenance crew failed to follow company policy in not repairing them right away.

The company's current generation of garages is much improved, Clarke added.

"Software-wise, machinery-wise, everything that has ever given us a problem has been designed out of the system," Clarke said.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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