How Speed Can Save Automated Parking

July, 2014

By Maurice Segal

Automated-carparking designers should study the speed of parking today, with the aim of increasing the speed of automated parking tomorrow.

There is a crisis in the design of automated parking systems, because its basic design has not changed in the last 50 years, but speed in the world has. Not only has the need for parking worldwide become more critical, but also our way of understanding the speed of passing time has changed.

The psychological changes in man’s approach to speed during the past 50 years cannot be overstated. Our world has experienced unpredictable acceleration of the speed of flying, the speed of railway travel and of electronic communications, which have had a profound effect on our attitude toward speed and the elimination of delays.

The driver today is not the driver of yesteryear. They are extremely impatient while waiting 20 minutes for their car, which seemed reasonable 50 years ago, but which is, here and now, considered insufferable.

Only speed, especially the speed of delivery of the vehicle back to the owner, will save automated parking. But there are no signs that the designers and builders of such parking are of this opinion.

In fact, one can scan online parking industry magazines and parking advertisements and the word “speed” does not even appear. It’s as if the people concerned feel that if they do not mention it, it will go away.

But speed will not go away. As it increases, everything that moves slowly appears in the passing superfast train’s window as though it is standing still and hardly worth noticing,

Automated parking – not only to survive but to succeed – has to put its foot on the gas and eliminate every element that slows down parking.

Before we examine how this could be achieved, let’s look at the opposition: ramped garages.

Ramped parking was, and presently is, much faster than automated parking. It is restricted to five or six levels, so automated parking will always have the advantage of more cars on

less land.

Ramped parking’s present disadvantages of noxious gases, and the potential for theft and violence will probably be eliminated by self-guided and -driven automobiles within 5 to 10 years – but only for the very rich. Self-driven cars also will waste fuel, which would be saved by automated parking.

 The first standard item that should be eliminated from automated parking is the elevator, patented by Otis in 1857. It may be a godsend in the new and projected sky-high towers, where it can climb or descend at several meters a second, but the speed of an elevator moving from one parking floor to another is limited by the short distances between them.

An elevator with the floor area of a single parking place can comfortably carry 25 passengers, but only one car at a time. During half its travels, moving up or down to pick up waiting cars, an elevator carries nothing.

The throughput of an automated parking system is as fast or as slow as the speed of its vertical conveyance system.

Experienced designers who decide to build a new version of the 40-year-old system of two rows of cars parked facing each other – with an elevator at each end of the central corridor and a transfer vehicle moving between the two elevators on every floor – know that if a particular system were able to park, say, 250 cars on five levels at an acceptable rate, additional parking levels with taller elevator towers would decrease the throughput with every added level.

Attempts to increase the throughput of automated parking by increasing the number of elevators involve a trade-off of gaining one elevator and losing the area of an elevator enclosure on every level. This always ends with insufficient elevators to achieve a speedy throughput or a large footprint parking too few cars.

A speedy automated parking system has to be based on a vertical system that can convey and transfer a number of cars simultaneously, while parking or delivering cars.

Steam-driven dredgers with circulating buckets attached to chains go back to 1804, in America. Escalators were first patented in America in 1849. Both are examples of continuous motion. This concept should have been developed in relation to parking cars many years ago, but the conviction that nothing could be simpler or better than the elevator was persuasive.

Once a speedy system of vertical conveyance is installed, the horizontal transfer of cars from entry level to parking places on upper levels, and the reverse process to the exit, may be simplified so that any unnecessary horizontal movements and changing the means of supporting the car are eliminated.

It is also vital to the speed of delivery to ensure that a car, whose owner is waiting, should not have to wait for another car to get out of its way.

To outperform ramped parking, developers must find the way to transfer vertically a multiple number of cars simultaneously. A four-month study by Otis concluded that chain-driven platforms, though a great solution, cannot be added to or combined with an existing elevator system.

The decision whether to change a slow horse for a fast one in midstream will have to be made by designers, builders, investors and shareholders.

Contact Maurice Segal, an architect who lives in Israel, at maurice.segal25@gmail.com.