DUBAI // An automatic parking system has opened near Ibn Battuta Mall, promising to take the stress out of finding and occupying a space in the busy city centre. Mag Robotic Systems has installed a robotic car park with 765 spaces, intended for users of newly opened offices near the mall.
The main advantages, according to Ramanathan Ramasubba, project leader of the company's technical design division, are that motorists will not have to worry about their cars overheating in the sun or about returning to the vehicle to find the doors scratched. "It all works on sensor," he said, explaining that motorists would use one of eight entrances with a green light outside and put the car in a space the size of a normal garage.
"There is a screen that tells you if the car is in the correct position," he said. "It all works on lasers which read where the vehicle is." Any car less than six metres long and two metres wide will be accepted. "It will take mainly every car, including every 4X4," said Mr Ramasubba, "but a Rolls-Royce might be too long. "But it will take a Hummer H1." After leaving the car, the driver enters his or her name on a touch screen and answers a list of questions: Is the engine turned off? Is the handbrake on? Are there any people, pets or mobile phones left inside?
The process takes less than two minutes. The pallet the car is standing on is then rotated 180 degrees - so the vehicle will be facing the road when the motorist gets it back - and raised to another level where the car is transferred to another carrier and moved across the dark warehouse to a free space, all to the sound of a well-greased mechanical operation. This all takes less than three minutes.
To get the car back, the driver inserts his ticket into a machine similar to a paid-parking machine and watches on a screen as the car is brought back down. A separate screen displays the driver's name and the gate at which the car will reappear. Again, it takes less than three minutes to get the car out. Eight gates are available and, depending on traffic, each can be used for taking or delivering cars. A car-wash service will eventually be available as well.
Yesterday morning, four cars were stored high up in the car park. One was there by mistake. "I heard there were trials for paid parking in the malls so I just presumed this was one," said Matt Bagshaw, a Londoner working for Etihad Airways and living in Abu Dhabi. "I heard on the radio about the robotic car park and I only realised once I drove into it." He watched his hired car disappear after he answered the questions.
"I found it very 'sci-fi' for me," he said. "It is very futuristic, but it was a good idea." Andrew Chambers, the managing director of Asteco, the company managing the robotic parking, said it was still uncertain if or when there would be a charge. Next door there was free parking for the mall, and although the robotic car park was intended primarily for the offices, shoppers were welcome to use it.
"If the time comes that there is no parking available for those using the offices, we will have to charge other users," he said. "When this was designed," he added, "we didn't know there would be a Metro." The Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre Mall have introduced free parking trials. Once the Metro starts operating next month, a charge will be levied after three hours of free parking. Mag Robotic Systems has built parking garages in New York and Germany. There are plans for similar structures in Abu Dhabi.