Imagine a multistory parking garage within a brand new shopping mall that uses robot valets to park customers’ cars, while residents and tourists alike enjoy the splendors of a 1,000-year-old Confucian temple, next to it.
This fascinating juxtaposition of marvels exists in Nanjing, China, where Yeefung Automation Technology has developed a robotic parking system that contains just two robots and is located in a 2,400 square meter parking facility with 57 parking spaces, according to China News Service.
The garage is set to open in July 2017, and is powered by robots that are actually 4.8-meter-long flat platforms on wheels. These robots are able to transport cars up to 2.5 tons in weight to different floors of the garage, using elevators.
According to Yu Lei, general manager at Yeefung Automation Technology, the process works as follows. Drivers enter the parking structure and leave their cars on the first floor, after which a control system examines the size and weight of the cars. Next, the robotic platforms follow routes calculated by the control system and park the cars in specified spaces on the second floor. When drivers return to pick up their cars, they simply wait on the first floor while the robots track down their vehicle and then bring it back to them.
According to the company, all of this can be done using a simple smartphone app, which allows users to book parking spaces and then pick up their cars, with the entire process taking a scant three minutes. Further, this smart garage is said to cover about 40 percent less space, and also requires fewer workers, naturally. Remarkably, according to Mr. Yu, the entire garage would require only one human worker to guide drivers, and would not require lighting or ventilation, since the robots can function and navigate entirely in the dark.
This smart garage system is the culmination of nearly three years of research and development, according to Ji Feng, technical director. What’s even more amazing is the fact that the company claims that if a garage had enough space, 100 robots could work at the same time while avoiding collisions. If all of this is true, it represents a potentially huge reduction in maintenance and labor costs. Although such robot parking systems could address labor shortage issues in some locations, in other locations, they could rob workers of jobs.
Indeed, Yeefung Automation Technology says that it has planned to construct another smart garage system, in neighboring Zhejiang province. If such robot-powered smart parking garages proliferate, it could mean the end of valet jobs for humans, not to mention a hit to some other industries as well. On the other hand, it could also provide much convenience to customers and huge cost savings to companies, while freeing workers to pursue more interesting employment. While it is very difficult to predict the consequences of such technologies, we are likely to see more and more automation, particularly when it comes to automobiles.