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In a hurry? Let a robot valet park your car

Story highlights

  • Germany's Dusseldorf airport has installed a robotic parking system called RAY
  • It can be controlled via an app and retrieves cars based on flight arrivals data
  • It can park 60% more cars than a human operator and costs $5.50 an hour

(CNN)Throwing your keys at the parking valet as you sashay onto a flight may seem like the stuff of James Bond films, but already a robotic valet is taking the sweat out of getting on a plane at Germany's Dusseldorf airport.

Rather than getting behind the wheel, however, this robotic valet physically lifts your three tons of road machinery and slots it into pre-designated robot parking bays.
    Nicknamed RAY by its creators, the automated forklift truck is the brainchild of Germany's Serva Transport.
    Aimed at business travelers in a hurry, the automated parking system can be controlled and booked via an app. All travelers have to do is drop the car off in a designated area, go to a nearby touch screen to confirm the car is empty, and RAY does the rest.
    RAY uses sensors to measure and photograph the car, it then gently lifts it and takes it to one of 249 parking spots reserved for the robot forklifts.
    The company claims that its space-saving system -- which uses lasers and sensors to measure not just the height and width of the cars but accessories such as wing mirrors and fenders -- can park 60% more cars than a human driver.
    The system is also connected to the airport's flight data system: RAY will retrieve the car based on flight itineraries. The app also lets car owners communicate with RAY if there are any flight delays.
    The airport charges €29 a day ($40) or €4 ($5.50) an hour for the service, which the airport's management said was likely to appeal to time-strapped corporates.
    "Our product is especially appealing to business travelers, who arrive at the airport shortly before the flight, seek efficient parking, and return within a few days," Thomas Schnalke, the airport's managing director, said in a statement.
    A new tie-up with Volkswagen announced this month aims to increase the efficiency of RAY by getting the car and the parking robot to communicate with each other.
    "Our jointly developed technology exchanges data automatically between RAY and Volkswagen cars via Bluetooth and thus facilitates the parking progress," said Rupert Kock, the managing director at Serva Transport Systems.
    But RAY is not the only robot valet on the block.
    A New Jersey startup called Boomerang also aims to take parking to the next level by using an automated parking system that can park hundreds of cars without human intervention.
    Shuffling them like the squares in a giant Rubik's Cube in garages that need no light and little ventilation, the company says the system not only saves on energy but can fit more cars into a smaller space, freeing up valuable land for other real estate.
    According to Boomerang CEO Mark Patterson the advantage of his system is that it is designed with multiple entry bays, multiple robots and multiple lifts so there is no single point of failure.
    "If any one thing goes down, we can still operate the system," he told CNN.
    Drivers put their car into a parking bay that places the car on a large steel tray. Robotic wheeled platforms slide under the vehicle and then transport it to the bays following buried wires in the floor of the carpark.
    Patterson says its increased throughput means the bays can be filled and emptied more quickly than conventional carparks.
    "Our system is installed in a garage with level concrete floors so there's total fire separation between floors like in a conventional garage - most legacy systems are steel rack structures with no separation between floors," he said.
    "Developers like it because you can park 100% more cars in the same space and that's a big value proposition."
    The other advantage is that the carpark is a 'sterile' environment that has no need for human intervention.
    "The cars are not running in these garages so there's a big savings on air handling equipment," Patterson said. "You need seven or eight air changes an hour with traditional carparks versus just one or two with this system."
    Similarly, there's also no need to illuminate the building to the sort of levels that would deter muggers or other attackers that lurk in the gloom of multi-story carparks.
    "Robots don't care if it's dark," Patterson said.
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