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Dear Matthew Alice:

Whatever happened to the idea of "pigeon-hole" parking? Sometime around 1954 there was a hotel in downtown Spokane that had a large framework built up against the side wall on a lot too narrow for conventional parking. As I recall, a device like a forklift or a service station hoist carried my 1950 Mercury up and put it on a shelf. With the computer-controlled cargo/warehouse handling equipment available today, such a facility could even be operated with few or no attendants. Why not have a number of space-efficient vehicle handlers hidden away in otherwise unusable nooks and crannies?

-- L.D., San Diego

While L.D. fritters away his time suggesting new ideas to Matthew Alice, Gerhard Haag is hustling his Robotic Parking system to any overcrowded city that will listen and dreaming of his first billion. He's automated and computerized the staff-intensive Pigeon Hole Parking or Bowser Parking Systems from the '50s. A few of the old models are still in operation, but most of them disappeared fairly quickly. According to the International Parking Institute (it's a fact: somewhere there's an institute for every activity you can think of), anyway, the IPI sez most of the old pigeon-hole systems died because the hydraulic lifts and limited entrances were too slow to handle surges of traffic; mechanical problems (nearly constant) would trap cars inside the garage for three, four days at a time; and any pigeon-hole garage that handled lots of pigeons would need new hydraulics in seven or eight years. Good idea, crummy execution.

Cramped Europeans have been the guinea pigs for new robotic garages, and they seem pleased. In the U.S., there's a demo structure in Ohio and a commercial installation nearly completed in (no surprise) Hoboken, New Jersey. Aunt Alice Alice lives in Hoboken. Five years ago she found a parking space in front of her house and she hasn't driven since. Seems she can't think of any trip important enough to be worth the search for a new spot when she gets back. Her quality of life will zoom if she gets a slot in their robotic garage. The way it works, you drive your car into a bay like a self-service car wash with a pallet in the floor. You lock up, take a receipt out of a machine, an elevator lifts car and pallet up to an empty parking slot, and the package rolls on rails into the space. To retrieve your wheels, enter your ticket number into a machine, stick in your credit card (or your monthly rental ID card), and the elevator returns your car to ground level. And the whole process is faster than the average valet. Gerhard claims he can assemble the modular systems up to 20 stories tall, as wide as you want, with as many bays as you can afford, and it doubles the parking capacity of a similar-sized structure. If things go okay in Hoboken, maybe Aunt Alice Alice will drive out for a visit. Then she'll go shopping in La Jolla and be forced to live out her golden years parked in front of Starbucks, afraid to move her car again. You can get all the robodetails at robopark.com.

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