Let a robot park your car
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Let a robot park your car

Hoboken launches new high-tech garages; Cliffside Park soon to follow

The robots use automated elevators to bring cars to empty spaces.
The robots use automated elevators to bring cars to empty spaces.

Conventional parking garages are an environmental failure.

It takes lots of land and resources to build and maintain them — not to mention the gasoline wasted as waiting cars idle and then troll for a vacant spot and maneuver into and out of it.

Unitronics Group reimagined the whole scenario to look like this: Drive your car into a 20-by-20 foot entry bay, turn the engine off, lock up, take a ticket, and go on your way.

The rest of the process is fully automated.

After you leave the bay, a Unitronics robot scoots under the car, engages the wheels, and lifts the vehicle using a combination of radar, optical sensors, and cameras. It transports your car to the destination spot and positions it perfectly. There is no chance of a fender scrape, and there is no space-hogging poor parking.

To activate retrieval, you enter the bay and either pay the fee via computer or (for registered monthly users) swipe a coin-like RF card on your keychain. A computer screen tells you the number of the room where your car will be waiting, facing outward for quick exit, and shows your vehicle’s progress as one of the robots brings it to the room within two or three minutes of your request.

This is no startup dream.

Established in 1989, Unitronics develops industrial automation products, smart warehouses, and automated parking solutions for global clients that include Danone and BP in Belgium and Coca-Cola in Holland.

A screen gives drivers instructions in the entry bay
A screen gives drivers instructions in the entry bay

Unitronics built 47 projects in Israel and runs an international network of 165 distributors and sales offices in Europe, the United States, Israel, and the Far East.

Unitronics’ U.S. subsidiary recently completed four new-generation automated parking garages in the United States. Three are in Hoboken — 916 Garden St., 900 Monroe St., and 1415 Park Ave. —and one is at City Hall in West Hollywood, California. There is also another one in Mexico.

The sixth project, a 300-space, $4.5 million garage, is planned to open in late 2017 in a luxury apartment complex in Cliffside Park. (The developer resists giving the name or address.) The seventh is expected to be a very large $24 million project in Calgary, Canada, for which Unitronics signed a binding letter of intent and will begin once a building permit is secured.

Unitronics founder and CEO Haim Shani says that while mechanical parking is not a new idea, the Israeli solution does not require any devices or systems aside from the robot and offers revolutionary financial and ecological benefits.

“Our solution is unique and can change the whole game. The developer not only enjoys high-density parking, but also lower cost,” Shani said.

To begin with, Unitronics parking facilities use only one third of the space of a conventional normal parking lot — storing three times more cars in the same space — thereby saving on real-estate, excavation, development, and maintenance costs.

“It’s a green solution, too,” Shani said. “The car is turned off after the driver leaves it in the entry bay, so there is no waste of fuel and no emissions in the building. Since it’s a robotic system, there is no need for lighting or ventilation inside the parking garage, which consume much more energy than does our robot.”

Unitronics robots in action.
Unitronics robots in action.

While conventional parking garages pose personal and theft risks, Unitronics’ automated facility lessens the likelihood of injury to car owners and car theft, thus also reducing insurance costs for entrepreneurs.

And finally, the automated, remote-managed system saves on manpower costs. “We don’t actually need any employees at the parking garage, but normally one person is on duty during rush hours to serve customers,” Shani said.

The Unitronics Group, based in Airport City near Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, went public in 1999 and is listed on the Brussels and Tel Aviv stock exchanges. The company has about 250 employees in Israel and almost 50 in the United States.

“The company is profitable, but we expect significant growth so we are raising money through the stock exchange,” Shani said.

ISRAEL 21C

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