(Heavily excerpted version below.)
Would you trust a robot to park your car? The question will confront New Yorkers in February as the city's first robotic parking opens in Chinatown. The technology has had a good track record overseas, but the only other public robotic garage in the United States has been troublesome, dropping vehicles and trapping cars because of technical glitches.Because, presumably, no other failure modes exist. Failure for a commercial product like this is like those all-female dinosaur populations in Jurrasic Park -- It'll find a way to reproduce.
Another company had built the only other public robotic garage in the United States, the one with a checkered past.
Built in 2002 across the river in Hoboken, N.J., with 314 spaces for monthly rentals only, the garage dropped an unoccupied Cadillac Deville six floors in 2004 and a Jeep four stories the following year. Early last year, a malfunction that went unrepaired for 26 hours trapped cars inside.
This summer, the city of Hoboken tried to wrest control of the garage from its builder, Robotic Parking Systems Inc. of Clearwater, Fla., and an ensuing court battle shut it down for two weeks, trapping some cars inside. The garage is closed until Thursday as the city replaces the controlling software, city spokesman Bill Campbell said.
Dennis Clarke, the chief operating officer at Robotic Parking, acknowledged the operational problems, but said the garage has operated with "99.99 percent efficiency." He called the 26-hour outage a freak incident, where two redundant sensors failed at the same time and a maintenance crew failed to follow company policy in not repairing them right away.
"Software-wise, machinery-wise, everything that has ever given us a problem has been designed out of the system," Clarke said.
Automotion's Milstein said that in the 11 years Stolzer Parkhaus has built robotic garages, only one car has been damaged, in an incident involving a half-set parking brake. Even that loophole has now been eliminated with the addition of an additional sensor, he said.
"It is a complete virtual impossibility that damage can occur," he said.
A "complete virtual impossibility"? Is that impossible in the same way virtual reality isn't really reality?
I also love the fact that the only other automated robotic garage in the U.S., open only for 4 years, closed for at least 26 hours in a row one time, was "99.99 percent efficient." It'd have to be open 30 years with no other failures to make that claim for its reliability and availability just to cover that one 26 hour outage. Add in the time it was (presumably) closed after dropping a couple of cars and it might take even more than 30 years to get up to the claimed efficiency percentage.