Trying to find a parking spot on the street takes city dwellers an average of around eight minutes, wasting gas and leading to extra carbon emissions every year. Parking in a garage isn’t necessarily that much faster, if you’re stuck in a line of cars circling each level.
But if humans aren’t great at parking cars, new fleets of parking robots could start to change things. At Dusseldorf Airport in Germany, drivers pull into a waiting area, enter their flight details in an app or a kiosk, and leave. A robot takes care of the rest, carefully parking each car in a system that maximizes every inch of space in the garage. When someone flies back, the system tracks flight arrival times and has the car ready to go.
Besides making things more convenient for drivers, the system also helps reduce the pollution that usually builds up inside a garage (step inside any parking garage in California, and you’ll see a sign warning of the increased risk of cancer and birth defects from the fumes that inevitably result from hundreds of cars in an enclosed space). The parking robots, made by Serva Transport Systems, use batteries that run on electrical power.
When a car pulls into the garage, the parking system quickly scans it to figure out its size, and then assigns it the ideal spot. The robots, guided by GPS, carefully pick up each car and slot it into a space that’s exactly the right length. Lasers sense other cars or people, so the robot doesn’t crash into anything.
It looks a little like a game of Tetris, as this animation shows:
The system makes it possible to park as many as 60% more cars in the same amount of space, so cities can avoid building huge garages. Even a self-driving car would never be able to park quite this well, because the robots can turn in every direction.
“Our robot is much more flexible than a car,” says Rupert Koch, managing director of Serva Transport Systems. “In a car, you only can steer the two wheels in the front. Here, we have four wheels, so we can drive in a way that a car never could.”
Unlike other automatic parking systems, the robots can be installed in any garage without many changes; since the robots drive around by themselves, the garage doesn’t need built-in tracks or pulleys. “You can create it very easily because our robots act like forklifts,” Kock says. “You just need a regular floor, you don’t need to install anything.”
Eventually, the company also plans to develop robots that can park outside.