The garage is one of only two automated parking garages in the country, the other being a 74-car facility that recently opened in Washington D.C. by a different company.
According to Gerhard Haag, the founder of Robotic Parking Inc., the Tampa, Fla.-based firm hired to install the automated features in the garage, since the facility opened to the public in October 2002, the system has completed over 20,000 successful cycles of storing and retrieving automobiles. "We're very pleased with the garage's performance thus far," said Haag Tuesday.
A tour of the machinery
The garage has a monthly parking program available only to the city's residents. Each customer is given a card that attaches to the windshield. As the client drives south on Garden Street, the card signals a detector that informs a centralized computer that a car is approaching.
At the garage, there are four available bays for cars to pull into. The computer recognizes which bay is open and green light flashes, informing the driver where to pull in. The patron then pulls into the bay, on top of a large pallet. The customer gets out of his or her car, exits the bay and pushes a button on the sensor box that initiates the parking process, which includes the activation of a series of pallets, lifts, elevators, and carriers.
The system is run by a General Electric (GE) Fanuc motion control system that manages more that 35 robots, said Haag. GE Fanuc is a joint venture of General Electric Company and FANUC LTD of Japan, and is one of the global leaders in automation technology.
Haag described the parking process in intricate detail, illustrating how this modern facility lifts, stores, and retrieves several thousand pounds of automobiles.
First, he said, the central computer guides a carrier on steel rails along an open "aisle-way" next to the arrival station and the pallet. An additional "rack entry module" above the carrier is inserted beneath the pallet. Then, according to Haag, the pallet is passed mechanically to the carrier.
Haag said that under the direction of the computer, the carrier, with the pallet and the car on top, is moved from the arrival station to a multi-level elevator. Once the car enters the elevator, the lift rises to the desired parking level, and the pallet and vehicle are transferred to another carrier. That carrier transports the pallet and the vehicle to the parking spot.
To retrieve the car, a client goes to the lobby and enters the pin number. The car is automatically located and retrieved, in the forward drive position, to an open bay. Once the car arrives, the customer can simply drive away. According to Haag, the garage's average combined storage and retrieval time recorded by the computer is 147 seconds, and patrons don't have to drive up circular ramps, walk down steps, or take an elevator out of the building as they do in conventional garages. "At a conventional garage it's going to take anywhere from five to eight minutes to park and exit the garage," said Haag. "At only 147 seconds, an automated garage offers a real time savings."
One customer concern of having a system so reliant on machinery is that the equipment is prone to malfunction. Haag said that the garage is designed so that if one part of it fails, a backup system continues to store and retrieve cars. According to Haag, the building has two independent elevators, so that if one were to need maintenance, the second could function. He added that all components have at least one backup system, and some have as many as four.
Haag said one of the most obvious benefits of an automated garage is the optimization of space. The garage doesn't need ramps or pedestrian stairs, so a greater number of cars can fit into a smaller space. According to Haag, in the same space as the 312-car automated garage at 916 Garden St., which is approximately 10,000 square feet and stands 56 feet tall, a conventional garage could only accommodate around 90 cars.
"Conventional parking garages need ramps that require a large turning radius," said Haag. "They also need staircases and pedestrian access, all of which are unnecessary at an automated garage."
Another advantage, according to Haag, is security. Customers don't have to worry about poorly-lit parking garages full of dark corners and hiding places for criminals. The system virtually eliminates the risk of vehicle damage, theft, and personal injuries that occur in regular parking lots because drivers remain safely outside the building at all times, said Haag.
Still space available
According to city officials, there are spaces still available at the garage. There are approximately 180 patrons using the facility, which leaves over 100 spaces open. The monthly costs are $235 for regular cars and $250 for Sports Utility Vehicles. Applications are available at the office of the Hoboken Parking Utility in the basement of City Hall, or in the lobby of the garage. For more information, call the Hoboken Parking Utility at (201) 653-1919.