A view at the inside of one of the automated car tower park of Volkswagen in Wolfsburg (Germany). Credit: Sdu7cb.

  • Tungsteno

Smart car parks to make cities more liveable


From Dubai to Mexico City, from New York to Madrid, in the last decade cities have begun a smart transformation in which automated car parks are becoming key towards achieving the goal of more liveable spaces. Aarhus, Denmark (270,000 inhabitants) has been home to Europe's largest automated car park since 2015. What changes do these solutions mean for cities?

Over the last ten years, this Scandinavian country's second largest city has transformed the industrial zone between the harbour and the old town. Among other objectives, the local government wanted to take space away from cars and recover territory to make this area more habitable, a goal it decided to achieve by promoting the construction of a large underground automated car park, a system that saves time and frees up outdoor surface area by reducing parked vehicles in congested and polluted urban centres.

Now the area has been transformed into a space for civic life for activities ranging from major concerts to football matches. It also houses two new buildings: a public library and a centre for university students, researchers and entrepreneurs.

The car park in Aarhus is located below Dokk1, a cultural complex containing Scandinavia's largest library. Credit: Gardar Rurak.

Parking a car in one minute

The car park, built just below the library by the German company Lödige and opened at the end of 2015, has 972 spaces and is open to the public. The work has been financed by the "private philanthropic organization", as Realdania defines itself, which is also its current owner.

How it works is simple: the user accesses one of the 20 parking cabins located on the ground floor, leaves the vehicle and indicates on a screen how long they wish to leave it parked. Payment is then made with a rechargeable card. An automatic elevator system transports the vehicle to a free space on one of the three underground parking floors. When the user wants to retrieve their car, they only have to bring the card close to the screen so that the system can correctly identify their car and tell them in which cabin it will be returned. Realdania notes that the total time needed to park a car is between 40 and 60 seconds and that it will take no more than three and a half minutes to pick it up.

In addition to the parking time, this system contributes to reducing urban congestion, 30% of which is caused by the circulation of cars looking for parking spots, according to some studies.

The company claims that their automated parking system increases the number of spaces available by almost a third compared to conventional parking. To do this, vehicles are placed closer to each other and, at the same time, considerable space is freed up at street level, eliminating 710 outside parking spaces.

Other obvious benefits are the good conditions in which the cars are stored (temperature around 15-16 ºC) and the reduction in minor accidents and theft. All this, maintains Realdania, for a cost similar to that of other car parks (half an hour costs 11 Danish crowns, about 1.50 euros at current exchange rates).

An automatic elevator system transports the vehicle to a free space and parks it for the time established by the user. Credit: Lödige Industries.

The experience is repeated, and optimised

Since 2018, the experiment of Aarhus has also been replicated in Copenhagen. There, Realdania and Lödige opened a 350-space car park using the same basic technology. What's new is that the automatic parking mechanism has been optimised with a measuring system that allows each car to be assigned the space it needs according to its size. In this way, the German company explains, the car park has been better adapted to the architectural complexity of the building in which it was built.

The automated system reduces the parking time and optimizes the space. Credit: BLOX.

In the last decade, automated car parks have multiplied. The largest one on the planet today (as certified by the Guinness World Records website) is in Al Yahra (Kuwait). Located in the courthouse of this Arab city, the car park has 2,314 automated spaces. According to the company responsible for the project, it can place seven cars per minute and can receive up to 425 vehicles in an hour. Other examples of smart parking can be found in different countries, from the U.S. to Japan.

The problems associated with the parking of vehicles also extend to autonomous cars. With increasing development within the automobile industry, the question has arisen of how to park them efficiently while at the same time making them coexist with vehicles with a driver. And Germany is once again the focal point of innovation in this sector.

For example, Volkswagen has carried out tests at Hamburg airport with vehicles that can map their surroundings in order to move in search of a parking space. Daimler and Bosch carried out a series of tests at the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart and in Beijing, in which they experimented with an intelligent system incorporated into the infrastructure of a car park that allows a driver to leave the vehicle in a specific place and the system will direct it to a free parking space without a human driving.

Caster Hämmerling, Daimler's project leader, explained in an interview that the tests serve, for example, to test sensors installed at different points in the car park that can detect the position of the vehicle and possible obstacles, such as a child suddenly crossing in front. He added that the idea is also to make the intelligent autonomous car system learn to "negotiate the use of the car park," without interference or collisions with vehicles driven by humans.

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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

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