If there’s one driving job I think I’d be fine with giving up to a robot, it’s finding a place to park in a colossal, jam-packed parking lot or parking deck. That’s not really where driving enjoyment lives.
And while autonomous cars really aren’t available yet to do the task, there are other eager, hungry robots that could be. Robots like this mechanical go-getter named Stan, who will be valet parking cars at London’s Gatwick airport this summer.
The robots are built by a French company called Stanley Robotics, who started developing self-parking cars before realizing that it made more sense to move all of the complex AI and hardware from something that spends most of its time parked and immobile into something that only parks cars, and can do that all the time.
The result was Stan, a robot designed to actually lift and move cars into parking spaces without the need for the car to be active at all.
Even better, the robot is sort of cute. Here, look at it go:
It’s hard not to see that, especially the pan-out shots at the end, and not think of this, right?
The robots have already been in real-world use in France. In 2016, Stan robots parked cars at an indoor parking garage at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport. The next year, a new outdoor version of Stan was deployed to parking lots at the airport in Lyon, France.
Now, this summer, London’s Gatwick airport will try them out for three months in a pilot program. The system will work by having people drive their cars into a little staging garage, they’ll arrange payment and tag the car with their name and flight information, and then be on their way.
A Stan robot will then take the car, lift it by the wheels, and park it somewhere in the vast, dense parking lot. It can be parked closer to other cars because the robots need less room to maneuver, and, of course, doors don’t have to open on the cars.
The robots are designed to handle cars up to about 18 feet long, and weighing up to three tons.
When you return, the robot knows when your flight arrives, and retrieves your car, placing it into another little staging garage for you to pick up.
This seems like a pretty great solution, really. Your car’s security is never compromised, since you never give up your keys, and even if you did, I’m sure they’ve programmed some anti-joyriding algorithms into these things.
Also, I can see real use for later versions of these robots as assist robots that could replace tow trucks. If your old TVR gets stuck on the side of the road because you sucked a pigeon into one of the SUs, you could potentially summon a Stan-bot to come get you and your car and take you safely off the road and back to your garage or wherever.
Hell, I might even like one to follow me around, just in case one of my old shitboxes breaks down, sort of like this idea I had last year.
I’m very curious to see how this turns out; I think these car-moving bots could have a lot of benefit even to those of us who still plan to drive ourselves well into the coming Robotic Era.