Automated Parking Systems Demystified

Answering the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How Questions about this Innovative Technology
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Sponsored by Westfalia Technologies, Inc.
By Kathy Price-Robinson

Where Does APS Fit into Reducing Touchpoints?

The era beginning in 2020 was challenging for the country and globally. Facility owners struggled to keep their buildings operating safely in a time of pandemic, as it is not an easy task. And as communities, office buildings, and institutions began to open, this task became even more difficult.

Even during government-mandated shutdowns, stopping the operation of public parking was not an option. As communities reopened, parking become a larger burden than it was before because people were driving themselves more often, rather than taking public transportation. People do not feel safe in crowded buses and trains until viable treatments and vaccines for the virus slow the spread.

As with other common areas, parking facilities present a number of challenges when it comes to protecting employees, tenants, and visitors from the spread of COVID-19. For example, there are numerous “touchpoints” where people frequently touch surfaces that may have been used by many other people, with the potential for spreading the virus. There are steps building owners and managers can take to make parking areas safer. 

Typically, a conventional parking solution involves several touchpoints for drivers. They walk in public areas, use parking elevators or stairs, open doors, and in some cases, accept a valet to enter then drive their cars. Fully automated parking systems provide a completely contactless solution, designed to work with no human intervention.

Automated parking eliminates most of these touchpoints. Drivers park in a transfer area, check their vehicles for any belongings they may need, and leave. It is that simple. The automated system handles the parking and retrieving process with no human intervention. From entry to exit, no other person touches the vehicle besides the driver. Not only is this safer due to fewer touch points, but the owner of the vehicle also has ease of mind that their belongings will not be tampered with. Additionally, vehicles are at less risk for door dings or accidental scratching of paint.

Apps and Software for Car Retrieval

Users may utilize the kiosks to complete the parking and retrieval process, or they can use a mobile app on their smartphone to fully avoid touching “common surfaces” of any kind. Yet, users still get the personalized and high-end valet parking experience and comfort, without anyone entering their vehicles.

There is no need to wait with other people if the app is used. The app indicates when the car will be delivered to which transfer area. The app also gives indication of the user’s EV charge, rate of charge, etc. The user can also request for the EV to be charged and indicate how much charge is needed.

Why Should a Developer Consider an APS?

An APS not only provides a safer environment for users or drivers, but it also allows developers to save money through reduced operating, construction, and land costs, as well as provide added value through the increased space savings.

In search of space and land-saving parking solutions, developers are increasingly turning to APSs because these systems are often proven to reduce land, construction, and operational costs. In addition to public parking garages, APSs can be found in any type of real estate development, such as malls, offices, hotels, airports and residential developments, including mixed-use properties combining commercial and residential use. Although cost is often the most important factor for investors, city planners and municipalities are tasked with improving the ever-growing parking problem in a sustainable way for their residents. For example, Copenhagen in Denmark is aiming to becoming the first city in the world to be CO2-neutral by 2025 and has been using automated parking for more than a decade to vastly reduce emissions and energy consumption. In fact, when looking for a space-efficient, cost-saving, and low-emission parking solution, an APS is the way to go.

Where APSs can be Built

APSs can be built virtually anywhere. This includes above ground, where the system is aesthetically integrated into the building architecture, or underground, to accommodate the parking solution as discreetly as possible. Some vendors have special solutions that are optimally suited for infill developments so that small parcels of land can be used to maximize parking space.

Any construction project may encounter some legal or zoning restrictions, such as height restrictions or depth restrictions due to tunnels, ground water levels, difficult ground conditions, etc., but this could also be an opportunity to use an APS because of the ability to fit up to 60 percent more parking spaces in an APS compared to a conventional parking garage. Hence, meeting or even exceeding parking requirements despite these possible restrictions is made possible with the use of an APS.

The APS at the Conrad Hotel and Office Tower in Dubai provides 1,053 parking spaces on 12 levels with eight entry transfer areas, eight exit transfer areas, 22 transfer cars, and eight vertical lifts.

The Cost of APSs versus Conventional Parking

Comparing the cost of an APS with a conventional parking lot or parking garage is not an apples-to-apples comparison. It is a mistake to calculate the cost of automated parking merely on cost per parking space, as there are numerous savings to be had with an APS. With less land area needed to build the garage, a developer may save half of the excavation costs. This space saved will allow a developer to increase the earning potential by using the area for more hotel rooms or condos, for example. More money will be saved on lighting and ventilation because of the reduced regulations and requirements for those inside the system. When evaluating the investment in automated parking, first assess the value of the added real estate and other savings to the business. Often, installing this type of system is actually a net gain for a company.

In the case of the Lansdale project in Pennsylvania, architect Mike Rosen estimates that the cost of a parking space was reduced from approximately $20,000 to $30,000 per parking spot for conventional or structured parking to roughly $8,000 per parking spot using the APS. Factored into that accounting is a level of subterranean parking that was eliminated and the addition of more units. Each project is unique, and only through analysis and consultation with an APS vendor will potential savings be quantified.

Environmental Benefits of APSs

Automated parking is often a more sustainable option than conventional parking. Everyone knows the struggle of trying to find a parking spot in a typical parking garage and, in this scenario, the car engine is continuously running until a spot is found, putting off toxic fumes. These fumes are not good for the environment, nor are they good for humans to breathe in while parking cars, walking through the parking area, and retrieving cars. Automated parking cuts down on wasted driving time and, as a result, wasted emissions.

One unique feature of an APS is the lights-out environment. There is no lighting required within the system since it is completely operated by machines. The only places that light is needed are the transfer areas and the waiting areas or lobby where the users wait for their vehicle and access the transfer areas.

In a standard parking garage, there are specific ventilation requirements due to the amount of human traffic passing through the system. Automated parking garages have much lower ventilation requirements, typically needing only two air changes per hour. Therefore, companies spend less electricity to operate an automated garage.

In some cases, automated parking garages are built completely underground. What is left is more land for “green” spaces such as parks and playgrounds right on top of the APS. This is especially important in densely populated areas to help preserve the environment.

How Long Does It Take to Retrieve a Vehicle?

One of the most-asked questions about automated parking revolves around how long it takes to get a vehicle back once it is parked in the system.

For a system utilizing t-cars and satellites, sometimes referred to as a rack and rail system, the speed or throughput of the systems depends on a number of factors, including:

  • The number of transfer areas;
  • The number of lifts;
  • The number of transfer cars (t-cars);
  • The lift type used in the system (EOA or SOA);
  • The speed of individual components;
  • The efficiency of the control system;
  • The speed of the transfer area doors; and
  • Whether the lifts are within transfer areas or separated.

Depending on the layout of a structure, storage of a vehicle can take as little as 1 minute. Regarding retrieving a vehicle, machine time takes anywhere from 90 seconds and upward. The position of the car within the garage and the expected wait time for retrieval are noted on the kiosk screen or within the APS app, so users will not be left wondering where their vehicle is located. A typical retrieval time is 2–3 minutes depending on factors such as the number of users calling their vehicles, system components and layout, etc.


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Originally published in December 2020