Menlo Park looks at robotic garages

Transportation Commission considers how to fit more cars in less space

Flying cars are still a daydream, but garages that can park your earthbound car for you are not, and one company wants to bring that futuristic vision to Menlo Park.

The Transportation Commission on Wednesday, March 14, will listen to a presentation by Unitronics, a company that specializes in automated parking.

Instead of relying on humans to park their cars, an automated garage uses computers to move the cars into slots via lifts, conveyors, and moving pallets. By placing the vehicles almost bumper to bumper, and eliminating the need for ramps or driving lanes, the system can pack in almost three times as many cars as a traditional garage.

Frank DeFoe, regional vice president for Unitronics, said the company received a $2.6 million contract last year to build and maintain a 200-space system for the city of West Hollywood on a 150-foot by 80-foot lot. He estimated the cost of an automated stall at around $25,000, compared to about $40,000 for a conventional parking space.

For a 400-space garage in Menlo Park, the ongoing costs of operating the system are lower than for a traditional garage because of minimal ventilation and lighting needs, and reduced insurance, according to Mr. DeFoe.

Robots aren't perfect, but he described Unitronics systems as 99.6 percent error free on average. In 2008 the company took over an automated garage in Hoboken, New Jersey, after the city had a contract dispute with the previous operator, whose glitches dropped cars and, at one time, trapped vehicles inside the garage for 26 hours. Mr. DeFoe said that Unitronics overhauled the software and mechanics after it took over.

Transportation commissioner Ray Mueller said he's looking forward to the presentation. "New automated parking structure technology is touted as an innovative way to preserve, protect, and reclaim open space for community gathering areas and parks in urban environments," he said in an email. "Obviously, it can also be used to support an increase in density in areas where the parking supply, and space for a traditional garage, is otherwise limited."

He added that whether such a system suits Menlo Park depends on many factors. "Determining whether automated parking structure technology is right for Menlo Park should include community feedback as to proposed garage locations, and a careful examination of other factors, including garage installation fees, minimum parking supply implementation, maintenance costs, driver parking fees, parking wait time, vehicle delivery time, and aesthetics."

Parking, as demonstrated by the public hearings on the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan, remains a hot button issue for the city: Does Menlo Park need parking garages? If so, where and who will foot the bill? Some think the automated system is worth considering.

Nancy Couperus of the Menlo Park Downtown Alliance, an association of downtown business and property owners, said that while the group has taken no formal position, its members want to learn more since an automated garage may fit more vehicles into a smaller space than traditional structures, and could be less expensive, depending on ongoing maintenance costs.

"If in the future it's necessary to build a parking structure in the downtown area, we think that an automated structure ought to be considered," she said.

The Transportation Commission meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St.


Like this comment
Posted by mec
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Oooh I feel another $40,000 "feasibility and impact study" coming on!

2 people like this
Posted by Royce monteverdi
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 14, 2012 at 1:51 pm

while it is certainly correct that in comparing development costs of enclosed parking garages, the Robotic Parking garages will be less costly in capital expenditures as well as operating expenditures in any urban setting, Frank De Foe has something mixed up: the City of Hoboken gave a no-bid contract to his boss Haim Shani in June / July 2006 to take over the garage which we built and operated for more than 4 years with excellent patron feedbacks including from NJ Senator Kenny.

The same person who gave this no-bid contract to Shani /Unitronics, John Corea, is now facing a prosecution demanded sentence of 8 years prison and payback of bribes he received after having plead guilty to charges for other no-bid contracts and taking bribes while heading the Hoboken Parking Authority.

In getting a pioneering technology concept fully operational, there are always, of course, some initial difficulties.

Frank seems to be a bit disingenuous in his statements about the source of the difficulties. He omits considerable data on the difficulties that Unitronics had in operating the garage after the “takeover” by Unitronics/Shani.

This could be forgiven as the normal salesmen’s enthusiasm for his product and/or an inclination to criticize his competition were it not for considerable omitted data:
Here is an example of what Frank omits:

Web Link

and this: Web Link

and this: Web Link

and this: Web Link

and this Web Link
from Thurman Hart, adjunct professor of Political Science at New Jersey City University in his blog on July 10, 2008: “Or maybe the money flew to Israel: Corea said he, City Information Technology Officer Patrick Ricciardi, and one other person will go on a five-day trip to Israel, where Unitronics is based, next week to get certified training in how to operate and maintain the machines……..All that's missing is someone name Golan Cipel”
All of the above happened after Unitronics was given a no-bid contract by the now indicted John Corea and after Shani/Unitronics “took over” the operation of the garage in Hoboken.
And one more thing happened: the City of Hoboken (CoH) settled the Robotic suit by paying hundreds of thousands of Dollars to Robotic. Why ? Certainly not because all what was done with Unitronics was right. Did Unitronics settle the lawsuit CoH made against Unitronics?

Robotic Parking Systems, in the meantime, has moved on and has built several of the largest automatic garages worldwide with a flawless operational record in Dubai – operating for several years.

It’s amazing what can be accomplished in a political – sociological environment where alleged corruption is not a significant factor!

But with all that, I wish the City of Menlo Park all the best in using the exciting automated parking technology pioneered initially by Robotic Parking.

And I congratulate Shani/Unitronics on having the good judgment to “going to school” on and learning from the first fully automated parking garage in America. No doubt the technology will improve and I trust that Shani/Unitronics will contribute to the forward evolution.

For our part we continue to be committed to seeing that automated parking technology does improve and that its adaption expands.


Royce Monteverdi

Robotic Parking Systems Inc.

Like this comment
Posted by samy gharb
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 24, 2012 at 1:56 am

Story of the big boss Mr Haim Shani of Unitronics with anther patent in 2000

Mr haim shani the boss of Unitronics must have perception and realize at that time of the year 2000 he has no idea about PLC programmable logic controller and GSM mobile phone here is the fact

Web Link

Web Link

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