BACKGROUND: Would you trust a robot to park your car? New Yorkers will confront that question as the city's first robotic parking garage opens in Chinatown.
HOW IT WORKS: There won't be a humanoid robot actually parking your vehicle; the garage itself does the parking. The driver stops the car on a pallet and gets out. The pallet is then lowered into the innards of the garage and transported to a vacant parking space by a computer-controlled apparatus, similar to an elevator, except it also runs sideways, not just up and down. An array of laser and radar sensors let the system know if the car fits on the pallet, and detect movement to ensure that the driver and passenger have left the car before the pallet begins to move. When the driver returns, the system retrieves the car. Because it parks cars two deep in some spots, it may be necessary to shuffle cars around to retrieve a vehicle. The software system can figure out those logistics. An underground turntable turns the car around before it is lifted to the surface, so it is already facing out into the driveway. Drivers need not have to maneuver their own vehicles by backing out of a garage ý a common cause of accidents. An attendant will be on-site to handle financial transactions and explain the system to would-be clients.
PROS AND CONS: The developers of the Chinatown garage believe that the technology will enable them to squeeze 67 cars into an apartment-building basement that would otherwise only fit 24 cars. While other countries report great success implementing this robotic technology, the only other US robotic parking garage in New Jersey has had some technical glitches, with instances of dropped or trapped vehicles due to system malfunctions. (Nobody was in the vehicles at the time.) The operators of the New Jersey robotic garage dismiss these as 'freak incidents,' and say that the current generation of robotic parking garages is vastly improved in terms of the technology: software, machinery, and more high-tech components such as laser and radar sensors.
ABOUT ROBOTICS: Robots are made of roughly the same components as human beings: a body structure with moveable joints; a muscle system outfitted with motors and actuators to move that body structure; a sensory system to collect information from the surrounding environment; a power source to activate the body; and a computer "brain" system to process sensory information and tell the muscles what to do. Robots are manmade machines intended to replicate human and animal behavior. Roboticists can combine these basic elements with other technological innovations to create some very complex robotic systems. There are plenty of robots doing manual work on factory assembly lines, but while those machines can manipulate objects, they do the same thing, along the same path, every time. The philosophy behind the robot's development is that humans and robots can work together to accomplish tasks that neither could do alone.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.