Automated parking system

 About a robotic parking garage

A Paternoster Type of APS

An automated (car) parking system (APS) is a mechanical system designed to minimize the area and/or volume required for parking cars. Like a multi-story parking garage, an APS provides parking for cars on multiple levels stacked vertically to maximize the number of parking spaces while minimizing land usage. The APS, however, utilizes a mechanical system to transport cars to and from parking spaces (rather than the driver) in order to eliminate much of the space wasted in a multi-story parking garage. While a multi-story parking garage is similar to multiple parking lots stacked vertically, an APS is more similar to an automated storage and retrieval system for cars. The paternoster (shown animated at the right) is an example of one of the earliest and most common types of APS.

APS are generically known by a variety of names, including:

  • Automatic parking system (not to be confused with in-car parking guidance systems)
  • Automated parking facility (APF)
  • Automated vehicle storage & retrieval system (AVSRS)
  • Car parking system
  • Mechanical parking
  • Robotic parking garage

A Semi-Automated Parking System







The concept for the automated parking system was and is driven by two factors: a need for parking spaces and a scarcity of available land.

The earliest use of an APS was in Paris, France in 1905 at the Garage Rue de Ponthieu.  The APS consisted of a groundbreaking  multi-story concrete structure with an internal elevator to transport cars to upper levels where attendants parked the cars.

In the 1920s, a Ferris wheel-like APS (for cars rather than people) called a paternoster system became popular as it could park eight cars in the ground space normally used for parking two cars. Mechanically simple with a small footprint, the paternoster was easy to use in many places, including inside buildings. At the same time, Kent Automatic Garages was installing APS with capacities exceeding more than a 1,000 cars.

The first driverless parking garage

Opened in 1951 in Washington, D.C., but was replaced with office space due to increasing land values. APS saw a spurt of interest in the U.S. in the late 1940s and 1950s with the Bowser, Pigeon Hole and Roto Park systems. In 1957, 74 Bowser, Pigeon Hole systems were installed, and some of these systems remain in operation. However, interest in APS in the U.S. waned due to frequent mechanical problems and long waiting times for patrons to retrieve their cars. Interest in APS in the U.S. was renewed in the 1990s, and there are 25 major current and planned APS projects (representing nearly 6,000 parking spaces) in 2012.  The first American robotic parking garage opened in 2002 in Hoboken, New Jersey.

While interest in the APS in the U.S. languished until the 1990s, Europe, Asia and Central America had been installing more technically advanced APS since the 1970s.  In the early 1990s, nearly 40,000 parking spaces were being built annually using the paternoster APS in Japan. In 2012, there are an estimated 1.6 million APS parking spaces in Japan.

The ever-increasing scarcity of available urban land (urbanization) and increase of the number of cars in use (motorization) have combined with sustainability and other quality-of-life issues to renew interest in APS as alternatives to multi-story parking garages, on-street parking and parking lots.

Currently the biggest APS in Europa is in Århus (Dänemark) and provides 1000 parking spaces.


A Large Fully Automated Parking System



Space saving

All APS take advantage of a common concept to decrease the area of parking spaces. Also a concern is removing the driver and passengers from the car before it is parked. With either fully automated or semi-automated APS, the car is driven up to an entry point to the APS and the driver and passengers exit the car. The car is then moved automatically or semi-automatically (with some attendant action required) to its parking space.

The space saving provided by the APS, compared to the multi-story parking garage, is derived primarily from a significant reduction in space not directly related to the parking of the car:

  • Parking space width and depth (and distances between parking spaces) are dramatically reduced since no allowance need be made for driving the car into the parking space or for the opening of car doors (for drivers and passengers).
  • No driving lanes or ramps are needed to drive the car to/from the entrance/exit to a parking space.
  • Ceiling height is minimized since there is no pedestrian traffic (drivers and passengers) in the parking area.
  • No walkways, stairways or elevators are needed to accommodate pedestrians in the parking area.

Items eliminated are ramps, driving lanes, pedestrians and the reduction in ceiling heights, the APS requires substantially less structural material than the multi-story parking garage. Many APS utilize a steel framework & use thin concrete slabs.

Driving around in search of a parking space is eliminated, thereby reducing engine emissions.

  • Only minimal ventilation and lighting systems are needed.
  • Handicap access is improved.
  • The volume and visual impact of the parking structure is minimized.
  • Shorter construction time.

Fully Automated vs Semi-Automated

Fully automated parking systems operate much like robotic valet parking. The driver drives the car into an APS entry (transfer) area. The driver and all passengers exit the car. The driver uses an automated terminal nearby for payment and receipt of a ticket.

When driver and passengers have left the entry area

The mechanical system lifts the car and transports it to a pre-determined parking space in the system. More sophisticated fully automated APS will obtain the dimensions of cars. This is done on entry in order to place them in the smallest available parking space.

The Driver

They retrieve a car by inserting a ticket or code into an automated terminal. The APS lifts the car from its parking space and delivers it to an exit area. Most often, the retrieved car has been oriented to eliminate the need for the driver to back out.

  • Fully automated APS theoretically eliminate the need for parking attendants.
  • Semi-automated APS also use a mechanical system of some type to move a car to its parking space. However putting the car into and/or the operation of the system requires some action by an attendant or the driver.

The choice between fully and semi-automated APS is often a matter of space and cost, however large capacity (> 100 cars) tend to be fully automated.



By virtue of their relatively smaller volume and mechanized parking systems. APS are often used in locations where a multi-story parking garage would be too large, too costly or impractical.  Examples of such applications include, under or inside existing or new structures, between existing structures and in irregularly shaped areas.

APS can also be applied in situations similar to multi-storey parking garages such as freestanding above ground, under buildings above grade and under buildings below grade.



The direct comparison of costs between an APS and a multi-story parking garage can be complicated by many variables such as capacity, land costs, area shape, number and location of entrances and exits, land usage, local codes and regulations, parking fees, location, and aesthetic and environmental requirements.


Following is a comparison of building costs for generic APS and multi-story parking garages:

Application Type Parking Spaces Sq Ft per Space Building Cost Cost per Space
Freestanding Above Grade Parking Garage 200 320 $3,200,000 $16,000
APS 200 225 $5,225,000 $26,125
Below Building Above Grade Parking Garage 200 450 $6,750,000 $33,750
APS 200 225 $6,125,000 $30,625
Below Building Below Grade Parking Garage 200 450 $9,450,000 $47,250
APS 200 225 $7,025,000 $35,125

The comparison above is for building costs only. Not included is the cost of land or the opportunity cost of the use of the land.

In other words, the value of the additional space made available by the smaller size of the APS.

As evidence of the complexities of comparing the costs for APS and multi-story parking garages, the same author presents an actual case study as follows:

Application Type Parking Spaces Sq Ft per Space Building Cost Cost per Space
Freestanding Above Grade Parking Garage 203 445 $6,000,000 $29,600
APS 217 268 $6,200,000 $28,200

The APS also provides roughly 7,000 sq. ft. of additional open space. Compared to the multi-story parking garage, it provides no open space and requires minimum setbacks be utilized. Moreover, other references also indicate that the cost comparison between APS and multi-story parking garages. They are highly dependent on the application and the detailed design.


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