Cities are scenes for epic sci-fi battles. The MTA’s Robo-train has now met its first galactic rival: Robo-lot. This month the city will spawn its first robotic parking garage at 123 Baxter St. in Chinatown, a completely automated system allowing drivers to park their vehicles on a platform that transports it to an underground facility storing up to 67 vehicles. That this parking lot requires no parking attendant makes us feeble humans scratch our mortal heads.

But does it work? And how does it work? While this technology has been used in other countries, the only other robotic garage in the US led to trapped and dropped vehicles. But Robotic Parking (see website for how it works), the company who built the garage, stated that the accidents were due to malfunctions that were ignored by maintenance staff. (Human error!) Another company, Automotion Parking Systems, stated that in the 11 years of operating this technology, only one car has been damaged. APS, which has the Chinatown garage, will be charging around $400 a month.

As for how it works, the AP explains that after a driver leaves the car on a pallet, "The pallet is then lowered into the innards of the garage, and transported to a vacant parking space by a computer-controlled contraption similar to an elevator that also runs sideways." Sideways elevators - where are those?


In a city with a scarcity of space, going further underground makes sense. But, as in most sci-fi battles, will it leave citizens running and screaming? With all the recent news of dangerous and crowded streets, will a generation of Robo-lots lurking beneath the city’s surface bring even more cars? Many argue that more streets bring more cars, but does the same apply for parking spaces?

The rise of Robo-lot raises as many fears and doubts as the controversial Robo-train. The automation of the 21st Century city is no easy task, but it’s inevitable. Now…if we could only have conveyor belt sidewalks.

Photos of robotic parking lot by AP/Kathy Willens