Autonomous Parking Transforms Building Design and Land Use


High Density Robotic parking systems play a critical role in maximizing revenue generating spaces by reducing the land required for parking by 50% or more

For developers and architects, maximizing income-generating space for mixed use
commercial projects is critical, particularly when land is limited or expensive. In many
cases, the project cannot advance unless the architect can somehow “create space” to
achieve the building design and parking density required.

Traditional parking garages, however, waste valuable real estate due to their inefficiency
in storing vehicles. As a solution, advanced automated parking systems allow developers
and architects to store from 2 to 4 times the number of cars on the same land by
eliminating the need for drive aisles, ramps, and space for car doors to open. This
provides industry professionals with more options to design projects that can maximize
revenue-producing square footage that increases total project value.

Although such technology has been used for several decades overseas, particularly in
European urban centers, it has been refined and improved over the last 20 years in the
United States. Today, more sophisticated systems are able to park and return 400+
vehicles per hour if designed to do so, which minimizes potential wait time during
periods of peak demand. These systems are also designed to deliver unprecedented
reliability with 99.99% uptime and failsafe redundancy, making them a more viable
option than ever for incorporation in building development plans.

Such advanced automated parking technology was essential in helping Gary Tave, a
licensed engineer, building contractor, and owner of Square Peg Development LLC.
Tave sought to develop a $49 million mixed-use project, called West Bay Lofts, on two
city blocks in downtown Largo, Florida. The project, which is a key component of
revitalizing the downtown area, will include 123 market-rate apartment homes and
40,000-square-feet of ground-floor commercial space in two structures.

Early on, however, the project’s feasibility was in question, primarily due to a lack of
needed parking, and spiraling high-rise construction costs that would be required to add
the parking required.

“With the project’s constraints in property setbacks, height restrictions, and optimization
of net leasable square feet against construction costs, I realized there wasn’t enough
available square footage to meet all of the zoning criteria using conventional construction
technologies,” says Tave. “The main limiting factor was available parking.”

But when Tave explored purchasing additional land to accommodate a parking structure,
he found it was not allowed due to municipal priorities. “We were not able to acquire a
piece of adjacent land because the city did not want a large parking lot taking up valuable
space downtown,” he says. “So, conventional parking was not an option.”

According to Tave, he also considered adding stories to the building to accommodate
several layers of parking. However, this would require building to high-rise construction
safety requirements. This would add 25-30% to costs, making the project too expensive
to pursue.

Profitably Optimizing Development Space
As a solution, a growing number of developers like Tave – as well as architects
worldwide – are turning to automated parking garages to cost-effectively “free up” space.

Tave says in his prior experience and travel overseas, he had seen mechanical parking
solutions. However, the mechanical stackers he had seen in Manhattan, New York, for
instance, were not sophisticated and required too many ‘manual valets’ and too much
maneuvering space, which was not economically feasible for the project.

When doing Internet research, Tave discovered Robotic Parking Systems, an advanced
automated parking technology, by a Clearwater, Florida-based manufacturer of the same
name. Before determining that the current technology suited his project’s goals, he was
determined to first do his due diligence. As a retired Navy Civil Engineer Corps
Commander, he drew on his almost 25 years of active duty service, spent dealing with
issues of real estate acquisition, development, management, disposition, and building
project life cycles.

Compared to previous forms of automated parking, the advanced technology provides
more reliable and consistently faster vehicle delivery. This is due to a unique design that
can independently move dozens of vehicles simultaneously on electro-mechanical robots
in three axes (left-right, forward-back, and vertically). The result expedites automated
parking and retrieval even in periods of peak demand.

In this type of system, vehicle owners drive into a street-level “terminal” at the automated
garage, turn off the vehicle and exit with their keys. Then sophisticated software
controls, platforms, lifts, motors, sensors, and other mechanical gear transport the vehicle
to an open slot in a multi-story steel shelving system. Different sized bays accommodate
larger vehicles, such sedans and SUVs, to improve space utilization. When the owner
wants to leave, the system locates the vehicle and returns it to a ground level exit

Less responsive older systems typically utilize only one or two devices such as trolleys to
move vehicles. However, these can become intolerably slow and unresponsive during
periods of peak demand, so are not well-suited for high-volume parking environments.

“What matters in today’s robotic parking systems is not how long it takes to retrieve one
single car, but how long it takes to retrieve ten cars when ten people are waiting,”
explains Tave. The multiple exit paths and sophistication of Robotic Parking Systems’
programming helps to quickly get vehicles to their owners.”

Tave was also impressed with the implementation of the technology at the Al Jahra Court
Complex in Kuwait, which recently earned the Guinness World Record for the “Largest
Automated Parking Facility.” It was designed as a combination of 684 concrete ramp
parking spaces with 2,314 automated spaces on top. The Robotic Parking Systems
portion of the project provides almost 3.5 times the number of conventional ramp-style
parking spaces in approximately the same volume. While the conventional parking
portion is 7 levels and over 97 feet high, the RPS portion is 11 levels and 115 high.

The Robotic Parking System in the Al Jahra Court Complex can deliver almost 7 cars
every minute. It has a certified peak traffic throughput of 425 cars per hour
inbound/outbound, delivered through the 12-grade level entry/exit bays that service the
garage. Average retrieval takes 177 seconds.

Establishing the technology’s reliability, of course, was also a crucial concern because it
would need to function under any and all circumstances.

To satisfy himself in regards to the automated parking technology, Tave says he drew on
his lifetime of engineering expertise to independently review the specifications of all the
equipment from the servo motors to the network servers. He also did his own
independent due diligence by researching the suppliers of the system’s components.

What Tave found satisfied his demand for the utmost system reliability.

“There is a significant difference between systems with single machines operating in
multi-dimensional modes, and the Robotic Parking Systems design where each direction
of vehicle travel is handled by a separate piece of equipment with redundancy built into
every facet of the system, including the server that operates it,” says Tave. “With the
latter, you can achieve exceptionally high levels of reliability.”

In fact, Robotic Parking Systems historically perform with 99.99% uptime on a 24/7
basis. This track record started in 2002 and continues today. The system utilizes
electrical and mechanical components with lifespans of 40,000 hours or more, and
incorporates true redundancy of components throughout the entire system.
In the automated parking facility, every machine has built-in redundant components, and
at least two of each type of machine is installed. Each of the redundant machines can
simultaneously perform the same tasks, so if one needs maintenance or repair, the other is
always available to keep vehicles moving in and out of the garage. In terms of data
processing, an industrial server designed for 99.999% uptime, paired with an identical
redundant automatic hot swappable unit, provides failsafe reliability.

While the initial cost of such a reliable automated parking system is higher than a
traditional concrete garage, it is offset by lowering total development costs (including
land, construction and soft costs) by as much as 40%. Typically, only half the space is
required for the same amount of parking, which can significantly reduce the outlay for
land purchase. Or, alternatively it can increase the revenue generating development
capacity on a given piece of land.

The modular automated parking systems can also provide developers and architects
needed design flexibility. The parking structures can be built above ground, underground,
inside a building, on top of a building, or under a building. Any type of facade can be
used whether half-timbered, brick, aluminum, concrete or glass. This enables architects
to seamlessly blend the parking structures with the project or neighborhood.

Based on a thorough technical/financial review of the technology, Tave is incorporating a
Robotic Parking Systems design with 470-vehicle capacity and 240 vehicle per hour
throughput in the West Bay Lofts project.

Because the automated parking garage will be embedded in the building’s core,
surrounded on all four sides by apartments with active balconies, there will not be any
“ugly industrial” side of the building. Vehicles will depart through stylish exit bays in
the north side of the building.

The West Bay Lofts project recently broke ground, and completion is expected in
February 2021.

“The automated parking system is key to making our development project feasible and is
the first thing everyone wants to talk about. It gets a lot of attention from the media,
politicians, and interested customers which helps our sales and marketing,” he concludes.

By Del Williams

Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, California.

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