Congestion is a battle many cities in this world fight on a daily basis. It's not uncommon for many of us to take a one or two hours margin when leaving for or from work. When finally reaching home, tens of minutes are lost in search of a parking space.
All of this is caused by only one thing: there's only so much space we can grow sideways, so the solution to all the parking problems, and more, isn't all different than the one envisioned by architects for accommodating the growing population: since we can't go horizontal, let's go vertical. And as far as parking is concerned, a magical solution already exists: automated systems.
By that, we do not mean the technologies currently being developed by carmakers to allow cars to park themselves in any available space. No, we're talking about those automated buildings that take your car and move it up or down to God knows what available spot located inside specialized buildings.
Of course, a lot of space is still required for the buildings of these parking systems, but they're a lot more versatile than multi-level lots. They can be erected on any available empty lot, even in between buildings, as already is the case in some cities. These buildings come in several sizes, so a city can choose which type of garage fits its needs best.
So, how do these things work? First, we have the building itself, generally made of a metal skeleton which can be covered on the outside with pretty much anything its builder desires, including images to make it blend more easily in the city's landscape. Then, we have the computers, sensors, cameras and mechanical components needed to automatically guide a car to its allotted space.
Depending on the manner in which cars are being transported from entry to the parking spot, there are two types of automated parking systems: horizontal platforms and vertical lifts. No matter which one your city goes for, though, the process is very similar. The only thing setting the two apart is what kind of movement the car goes through to get to its space, to the side or up and down.
An input from the driver on a keypad or some touchscreen is required, as the computer needs to know who is leaving the car there so it can deliver it back when needed. Automated parking systems usually rely on a card, a key, or some sort of app containing a code that identifies the position of your vehicle when trying to retrieve it. Once the code is accepted, the artificial brain finds the ride and sets in motion its mechanical arms to bring it back.
Once that is out of the way, various electro-mechanical components spring into life and the car is moved into the respective empty spot, either vertically or horizontally.
Generally speaking, moving a car from entry point to parking space can take as little as two and a half minutes, so it's at times a lot faster than trying to find a spot on the ground. Since most such buildings are equipped with turntables or at least two exits, there's little need for the driver to back out of the building when leaving.
There are, of course, disadvantages as well. The most dangerous are the so-called acts of God. For instance, an earthquake can damage or even bring down such a parking solution, damaging all the cars in it as well. Also, because we're dealing with a mechanical gizmo, an automated parking system may from time to time fail and scratch or damage the body of the car. And they need constant maintenance too.
Regardless of how we look at them, automated systems are the future in parking, even if cities seem quite slow in adopting them. After all, the U.S. started installing such things about 20 years ago, while in Europe, such systems appeared in cities in 2007, and they still seem to have solved nothing.