The alarms are set and shopping strategies are honed, but there's no easy way to find parking on Black Friday.
Especially in a city.
Fortunately, German researchers have a plan for a futuristic automated parking system that does all the work so drivers don't have to and it can even recharge electric vehicles (EVs).
"It is a big relief if visitors can just drive their cars to an automated multiple-story parking garage and leave the car in park at the entrance," said Ralf Erdmann, head of the business division of the inHaus Center for intelligent building innovation at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. Erdmann and his colleagues at Fraunhofer are developing the new parking system.
The Fraunhofer group envisions a fully-automated building, or "parkhaus," with several floors to house vehicles. Drivers would arrive at the smart structure's entrance, park on a lift, and step out of the vehicle. If needed, an EV driver can hook the car up to a charger. Then the lift takes the vehicle to a free spot.
The idea was inspired by state-of-the-art automated warehouses that store packaged goods, which the institute has been working on separately for years.
Recently, the concept was presented as part of Fraunhofer's plan for the city of the future, Morgenstadt, at the UrbanTec exhibition in Cologne.
"(Drivers) avoid having to endlessly circle the upper floors only to come back down on foot," Erdmann said. Depending on the amount of parking time needed and the spaces available, the system could place vehicles behind one another in succession to save space. The design is scalable, making different numbers of lifts, spaces, and floors customizable for the location.
Such an automated structure would take up 35 percent less space than a traditional parking garage and require 60 percent less space for storing vehicles, according to Fraunhofer project partner Compact Parking Systems (CPS), a German company that develops automated parking systems.
Parking in urban areas is currently an expensive prospect, mainly because space is at a premium. The extreme is London, where parking costs more than $1,000 a month, according to a 2011 parking rate survey conducted by the real estate services organization Colliers International. Midtown New York was around $540, and San Francisco $375. Since the "parkhaus" of the future maximizes space, it could lower parking costs.
One version of the concept shows that photovoltaics could be mounted on the building's exterior, providing distributed energy generation. The German project team thinks all those vehicles connected to chargers have potential to provide additional storage for the grid. Such a vehicle-to-grid setup could alleviate strain on the grid during peak hours.
An automated system has other advantages, Erdmann said. "Safety and security for both the driver and the vehicle is greater because there are no people in the automated garage." No engines are running inside, so there's no exhaust, either.
Next, Erdmann said the researchers have plans to build a prototype of a parking tower with industry partners that include CPS, the planning firm BES, and the power and automation technology corporation ABB's industrial automation division. The prototype will have about 100 parking spaces, and will be equipped with EV charging stations. They are currently scouting a suitable location in Germany.
Mariana Gerzanych is co-founder and CEO of 350Green, an electric vehicle charging network developer based in Los Angeles that helps municipalities and retailers install charging stations. They are adding 800 locations to Walgreens, and have a project for a two-mile grid of stations in Chicago.
Looking at the Fraunhofer group's plans, Gerzanych said building a new structure like this in an American city would require enormous capital. "To install from scratch such a large structure for parking and try to advertise $4 transactions, that's cost-prohibitive," she said.
However, retrofitting existing garages and buildings to give them automated parking, photovoltaics, EV charging and storage capabilities would be ideal, she said, especially in New York City where there are already some scaffold-like parking lifts.
Gerzanych added that she thinks the companies involved in the Fraunhofer project are very strong. "It would be fantastic if they come up with a true energy management solution as well as energy storage," she said. "Energy storage in our industry is basically the Holy Grail."