It's like something from "The Jetsons": Automated parking garages, also known as Automated Vehicle Storage and Retrieval Systems, are becoming the wave of the future in the United States, including in New Jersey.

There are three robotic garages in New Jersey, with a fourth expected to be ready by the end of this year, according to Santiago Rodriguez, vice president of commercial operations at Unitronics Systems, Inc. in Fort Lee.

"Three of them are in Hoboken, which for a mile-square city, it's kind of interesting," Rodriguez said. "They have almost 1,000 spaces over the three garages, and then the one that will be coming online towards the end of the year, beginning of 2017, is in Cliffside Park."

How does an Automated Parking Garage work?

"It's rather simple; it's very intuitive for the user," Rodriguez said. "You drive in, you pull up as if you're pulling up into your own garage. The door opens, so you don't have to click anything. It just recognizes that you're there."

Rodriguez said the driver follows a guidance screen to place the vehicle into proper position.

"You turn off your engine, take your keys, lock your car," he said. "All the belongings that you have inside are safe, because there's no one inside the garage. You walk out and you swipe to activate the system. At that point, the system will take over. The front door of that garage will close for safety purposes, and the system will park your car for you."

To retrieve a vehicle in a transient environment, the driver uses a ticket. In a residential environment, it's done by a key fob or a smart card provided by the building, according to Rodriguez.

"Those are the determiners that are going to identify where the car is, so that you do get the right car back," he said.

Automated parking offers a variety of benefits to motorists, developers and architects, Rodriguez said. The driver maintains possession of their keys at all times and doesn't have to walk through a dimly lit parking garage, which provides a safer environment.

"You don't have to worry about the potential for -- because there have been many cases in the news about -- people being assaulted," he said. "Ultimately, you don't have to worry about that, and ultimately you don't have to worry about the frustrations of driving around and finding a space."

If an automated parking garage reaches capacity, Rodriguez said the driver will know from the get-go, and won't have to drive around looking and guessing whether it's full or not.

Does it cost more to park in a robotic garage?

Parking fees are set by the operators of robotic garages, but Rodriguez said currently they're maintaining prices at market rate.

"For example, in Hoboken the market rate is about $250 to $300 a month for monthly parkers, and that's exactly what they're charging in these garages," he said.

Automating parking provides a better use of space for developers, Rodriguez said, because they are able to put in two to three times the amount of cars in the same space, or reduce the amount of space required to provide the parking and meet the jurisdictional requirements. He said that allows the space to be used for other purposes that are potentially better revenue streams.

Rodriguez said automated parking is also a tool for architects in instances where a large parking deck might alter their design and not provide the design flexibility that they would like to have.

"Now all of a sudden, the parking deck is hidden and it's part of your design," he said, adding that another positive aspect is that these garages are eco-friendly. "The carbon footprint is dramatically reduced. There are no emissions really in the system, because there are no cars driving around looking for parking. In addition to that, we are saving on lighting. You don't need to light the garage. Robots don't need lights, humans do, but there are no humans in the garage, and you're saving also on ventilation. Again, no emissions in the system, so we are only required to have two cycles of air exchanges per hour."

The idea of automated parking is appealing to municipalities that want to utilize space efficiently, and Rodriguez said Unitronics is gearing up for a ribbon-cutting this month.

"We are currently parking cars, if you will, in West Hollywood, California, at the City Hall parking garage," he said. "It's a very progressive community, and they were running into a situation where to build a traditional parking deck would have eaten up the entire property. It would have basically encroached upon the setbacks with the city hall building that is next door, and taken away a lot of the natural light that that building had. Plus, it would have incurred a lot of emissions into the air, so their carbon footprint would have expanded dramatically."

Rodriguez said the automated parking garage used up 60 percent of the property, freeing up the other 40 percent for the municipality.

He expects shopping centers to embrace automated parking in the near future as well.

"In Korea, this has been introduced successfully, whereby they have automated garages in shopping centers and are able to create more retail space, again increasing the revenue that is generated by that shopping center," Rodriguez said, pointing out that many shopping centers have a sea of vehicles, but no extra land to expand on. "So in essence, their choices are going to be to take over some of the surface lots and create a building, if you will, that will have automated parking."

The reason automated parking is very popular in Asia and Europe and is only starting to take off in the United States comes down to land, according to Rodriguez.

"In Europe and Asia, the urban centers have been so densely populated for so many years, centuries really, that their need for parking is just dramatic," he said. "For us, we've always had the luxury of the expanses of land."

Rodriguez said the demand might not be that great in the middle of the United States, with the exception of Chicago. Urban centers such as New York, Boston and Miami on the East Coast and Los Angeles and San Diego on the West Coast would meet the requirement for automated parking.

Unitronics is also behind an automated parking garage that's expected to be ready by the end of the year in New York City.

"That one is an interesting concept and it's something that's happening in New York more and more," Rodriguez said. It involves automated parking where people can purchase a space and pay a monthly fee. However, the project in Tribeca involves spaces that will reportedly cost $1 million each for a building comprised of 50 condominiums worth $8 million each.

"For 50 condos above, they only have 8 spaces below," Rodriguez said. "That's why they're able to get away with charging $1 million per space."

Surprisingly, automated parking has been around since the early 1900s.

"The first place it came out was in Paris, and it was a quasi-automated system that still needed some manpower to really make it run," Rodriguez said. The system was first available in the United States in the 1950s in a semi-automated way, and in the fully-automated method in 1999 in Washington, D.C.

"That was the first (job) that was signed on, but Hoboken actually beat it in the sense of getting constructed quicker," Rodriguez said, adding that the automated garage in Washington was completed in 2002.

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