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Debugging Santa Monica's First Robo Garage

New automated garage, the kind of the future, will open without help from valets and with fewer hiccups in the next four to six months. "There's a price to pay for being the first," developer says.

Meet the parking garage perfectly suited for an episode of The Jetsons.

Below the UCLA Santa Monica Outpatient Surgery Center, the machines in a new automated garage do all of the work for you, but watch out: software glitches could hold your car hostage.

After opening the $8-million garage to the surgery center's employees and to the public in the spring of last year, developers say they are still debugging new control software for two robotic arms that grab, store and return vehicles to docking bays without human assistance.

The two 8,000-pound cranes, which share a fairly tight aisle, do not always communicate properly when there are as many as six cars that need to be parked simultaneously, and that's causing delays.

"That's complicated... to not crash into each other. One crane should move out of the way," said Randy Miller, president of Nautilus Group, which built the garage. "We're refining the logic."

Miller said his is the first robotic garage operating the West Coast.

"There's a price to pay for being the first," he said.

In Los Angeles, others are planned at West Hollywood City Hall and at an affordable housing project in Chinatown. Miller said he intends to build more in Santa Monica, including at a proposed mixed-use housing and commercial project at Sixth Street and Colorado Avenue.

The Santa Monica garage located directly across from the UCLA hospital on 16th Street might not be operating to its full potential yet—but there are still benefits.

When the equipment is working properly, a car can be retrieved in less than two minutes. Plus, there is virtually no threat of thefts, and you will never roam the garage in a panic, frantically clicking your key-less entry remote when you've forgotten where exactly you parked.

"It breaks down sometimes, but when it's working it's really great," said Laurin Eimers, a registered nurse who works at the outpatient center. She said her car has been held up a few times by the technical malfunctions.

Here's how the garage works: a driver pulls in to one of the six bays and exits his car. After he checks in at a kiosk, a movable platform takes the car from the entry bay to a crane, which lowers it head-first into one of 250 parking slots on six vertically-stacked levels.

The center's employees like Eimers who pay monthly rates to park, swipe their drivers' licenses to identify their cars. The public uses debit or credit cards. When the driver returns to retrieve her car, she swipes the same card, and the crane picks it up, spins it 180 degrees and places it back in the entry bay.

"It's going to take quite a while to get people acclimated to working with this type of system," said Nautilus' garage operation manager Shaun Harris.

Harris' job is to figure out how to make the system more user-friendly before it fully opens to the public in the next four to six months.

"It's supposed to be completely autonomous," he said. But "when they come in, people don't have any idea what they're looking at."

Currently, valets (human ones) assist drivers.

"We want it to be like an elevator," Miller said. "Every once in a while it will break down, but no one is ever concerned about when they get in."


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Glenn E Grab January 24, 2013 at 04:46 PM
if it's so "automated" why does it require two full-time employees just to help people find their cars?....
Glenn E Grab January 24, 2013 at 04:49 PM
this sounds like a lawsuit in the making....when this thing breaks down at a crucial moment
Jill January 24, 2013 at 10:11 PM
Leave it to Santa Parking Meter to be the first on the west coast to embrace "robotic parking", at a hospital no less. "Employee Parking?" I thought they were going to ride the Expo line?. Of course not one person going in to UCLA for surgery will be using parking. That is a big stretch. Drive up to UCLA park your car for more than your IRA is worth, have a little surgery then jump back into your car. We are not fools. What are the parking rates for this wonderful robotic garage?.
Jenna Chandler (Editor) January 24, 2013 at 10:21 PM
Hi Jill: The rates are $4 for every 15 minutes with a $20 daily maximum.
Lorraine January 24, 2013 at 10:51 PM
The whole point of PAYING money to park my car in a facility is the SECURITY of a person there when I get in and out of my car and the SECURITY my car won't be vandalized while I am away. This facility seems to now offer no such service!
Jill January 24, 2013 at 10:57 PM
I would say Jenna sweatheart that you do not live in Santa Monica. St. John's medical center have been charging these rates for years. You can't visit a doctor in SM parking meter without ten dollars in your pocket. Which brings me to the point which I always ponder sitting in a doctor's office for one hour. Are doctors really busy, or are they really just fleecing you for parking fees?.
Jill January 24, 2013 at 11:18 PM
I have lived on Ocean Park Blvd .for over 30 yrs. The fairview branch of the public library is santa monica parking in it's Zenith. Free parking for library employees, parking meters for people who want to visit the library.
Glenn E Grab January 24, 2013 at 11:20 PM
Glenn E Grab January 24, 2013 at 11:22 PM
so, if you parked there daily, it would cost 5,000 bucks per year...
Jenna Chandler (Editor) January 24, 2013 at 11:36 PM
Jill: I do live in Santa Monica.
Jenna Chandler (Editor) January 24, 2013 at 11:39 PM
Hi Lorraine: These automated garages are considered safer, because once the cars are parked, there's virtually no way for anyone to access them.
Gary Kavanagh January 25, 2013 at 12:10 AM
Jill, Parking costs money to build and provide. It is never free, and if you park and aren't paying for it, someone else is. That someone else is usually diffused to all tax payers or customers of a place of business, regardless of whether they use a car or need parking provided. I prefer when parking is charged, it is more fair, and when parking is priced appropriately, it discourages over loading, and in fact makes it easier to find a space. The parking meter was invented so people could find a space and improve turn over for places of business. As for free parking for employees, this is typical in many private businesses and public services and amounts to being an employee benefit. But when such parking privilege is provided as a benefit, commuters who don't park should also have a parking cash out option for the value of not taking up a space, as I do at my employer in Santa Monica.
Rebecca A. Anderson January 25, 2013 at 01:00 AM
Wow, I'm a Volunteer upstairs from this new parking scenario, 1223 16th Street, I know since this "Award-winning Green Building" opened last July it has had many glitches to over come, I had no idea what was going on downstairs, I know the system does break down occasionally, if great security is being offered in the Parking Area, that would be a big plus, since so many Homeless people are allowed to roam this area. There are things in this building like how the front door opens, unless you are really physically fit, and really with it, harm could come to your body, there is a boot on the under plumbing of the sink in the female girl's bathroom that is open to the public on the 1st Floor, I can only imagine how many germs could be growing in there, the chairs in the Admissions area are not on rollers , are too low and are very difficult to deal with for our Pain Management patients and/or Outpatient Sugury patients, I've also been told in the out patients surgery area on the 2nd floor there are no lockers to put your personal possessions in and privacy appears to be limited
emily harris January 25, 2013 at 01:58 AM
Should have used the guys in NY who have automated parking perfected. I think its called automotion. I parked there during rush hour and it works fine.
Val Streit January 25, 2013 at 02:05 AM
Not all businesses provide parking and the result of that is people park in residential areas that are not permitted yet. UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center offers parking to its employees for $68 a month but people choose to not use it and park in our neighborhood, some for financial reasons (or so they state) others just out of principal. It's not fun coming home and not being able to park on your own street because 80% of the cars are hospital employees.
Bob January 25, 2013 at 02:36 AM
Sidewalks cost money too, Gary. Should we charge a pedestrian fee? The point is that it is a community benefit; we pay taxes for that space, ans the 10% sales tax we pay when we shop should compensate the City for its "benevolence". I'm ot for free street parking in downtown areas, but the rates now are simply unreasonable, and the restting meters are the final insult. I shop elsewhere now.
Jill January 25, 2013 at 06:25 AM
The history of Santa Monica and parking is the history of the city parking structures. First they were free, then they were metered, then it was two hours free, now they are 90 minutes free, the problem with that is it takes 30 minutes to find an empty space. The wonderful thing about parking is you pay for dead time queuing to pay. Sears is famous for that 2 hrs. free parking, but 30 minutes of that time will be spent in line in the store. I have two friends who live in S. Orange County one in Aliso Viejo, one in Laguna Niguel. No parking meters, 8 percent tax rate, no pot holes??? A great site I just found is "Zip2tax' Just what do we get for 9.5 percent tax rate??? Bike lanes that one person a day rides on Ocean Park Blvd. Because I live on O.P. Blvd. and have to drive it to get from A to B I have taken an interest on the number of bikes using their wonderful lane. The number is zero to one. Never more than one person. I know, I am just not getting the history of "' build it and they will use it". I am looking forward to the Expo Line and the efect it will have on O.P. Blvd. Can't wait to report on the results.
Glenn E Grab January 25, 2013 at 07:03 AM
the bike lane has made a bad traffic problem even worse...
SantaMonicaNative January 25, 2013 at 09:33 AM
Ah, the point of the bike lane is that it makes Santa Monica LOOK green. Unfortunately, our city hall has a bad habit of doing what looks good on paper, not what works. Like the roundabout on 26th St. I have often felt that the city council should have to sit on folding chairs under the three trees on the island. If they lasted 15 minutes, i'd be surprised. No one can ever tell who has the right of way. Maybe it doesn't matter. The stupidity of the new smoking regulation is another thing. Hey, let's pass a law with no guidelines, no forms, no accountability, and no enforcement. Leave it to the landlords to figure it out. It looks great on the American Lung Association Survey. Or we could hike the city costs, taxes, parking whatever we can get away with and then make reidents feel lucky they don't have to pay extra to use the parks. Now we have topsy turvy parking. What happens to your change in the ash tray or the books on the seat when your car is rotated verticallly 180 degrees. I don't have to worry, i won't drive in this city. I keep telling people that i love this city, but believe me it gets harder and harder.
Glenn E Grab January 25, 2013 at 05:05 PM
the inmates are running the asylum
marcopolo January 25, 2013 at 05:45 PM
"Now we have topsy turvy parking. What happens to your change in the ash tray or the books on the seat when your car is rotated vertically 180 degrees." I think you are confused. Your car is not spun around, or titled, or rotated in any fashion. Take a better look at the pictures (great, btw) and you can see how the entire operation works.
Glenn E Grab January 25, 2013 at 05:56 PM
marcopolo, as long as private enterprise is paying for it, who cares?...but if it;s public money, it's a guaranteed loser and a lawsuit magnet...
Gary Kavanagh January 25, 2013 at 07:38 PM
Everyone benefits directly from sidewalks, but about 100 million Americans do not drive cars (nearly a third of the population), either because they are too old, too young, physically unable, unable to afford, or do not want to or can't for one reason or another. Cars come with a number of societal costs that are externalized onto society that are not compensated for in driving specific fees, from loss of life to air pollutants, public property damage etc. Last time I checked the people walking in front of my home were not blowing in particulate pollution from brake pads or hastening the destruction of the infrastructure with their body weight. To compare the two is beyond ridiculous. I welcome more people, not more cars. Free parking is not a community benefit, it is a driver benefit. But it is also a driver inconvenience, because under valuing parking is precisely what why spaces are hard to find where demand is high. It's economics 101, but we prefer soviet style management of cars over market forces in America. For regulating overflow on residential streets, overnight parking permitting is one of the best ways to address that issue, and has been found to be more effective than parking minimum zoning mandates. If an area is permitted and still getting overflow, it is either an issue of poor enforcement or it is too easy to acquire the permits.
SantaMonicaNative January 25, 2013 at 10:05 PM
Perhaps you might look at the text rather than the pictures. The story says, the car is lowererd head first by a crane into a vertical slot...you swipe the care is rotated 180 degrees and brought forward . I don't know any other way to read it but the car gets a bit of a shake. The pictures look different from the story. Can't tell you who is right
Dan Charney January 27, 2013 at 03:23 AM
As a long time resident of Ocean Park - just off OP Blvd at 4th Street- I fail to see how the train will alleviate problems in my area- the stations are too far away and I doubt these folks will be taking the train and then hopping a bus - I think the prettying up the boulevard with trees and green lanes ( which looks great ) is strictly to start taking buildings out from under renters and building condos for the new wave of people they want living here- they say they care what we think - but do they? are they listening? this council and the good riddance Bloom- leaving the terrible O'Connor in his place- have one after another ill thought out development in the hopper after another- no regard whatsoever for the city and it's residents who don't want anymore of it- we want our peaceful beach town back - not a million tourists a month and more business and ugly condos- please stop
Bob January 27, 2013 at 04:18 PM
I understand your point, Gary. But we subsidize all sorts of things we can;t or don;t use. I'm not a fan of cars either, but if you want to provide convenient shopping and entertainment and collect that sales tax, you are not going to do it by forcing people to wait 20 minutes for a bus that is frequently host to some pretty unpleasant people. People will drive further (e.g., to Culver City, Marina del Rey) to avoid that (and,in fact, do so) increasing the emissions that you are concerned about. Free (or inexpensive) parking is not a driver benefit; it is a service for which we already pay when we purchase goods and services in the building or the nearby shops...just like we're paying for that bus that you take.
Gary Kavanagh January 28, 2013 at 07:11 PM
Bob, All transport is subsidized, but there are several distinct differences between the way we subsidize driving, & subsidize transit. First off, nearly everyone complains there is too much traffic, if there is too much of something, why are we encouraging more of it? Cars become less useful the more people use them. The inverse is true for transit, where more ridership supports more buses, reducing wait times & making transit more convenient & timely. Take the million people riding transit in LA everyday & put them in cars adding to existing traffic & you would quickly realize how important transit is to allowing cars to have any usefulness left at all. Where transit is provided, it is accessible to all, even if not everyone does use it, but the same is not true of driving which is inherently exclusive to some. Driving is also double subsidized. Roadways are subsidized & storage of vehicles is subsidized. The land devoted to storing cars around Santa Monica is clearly visible from space, consuming significant portions of the city, most of it charged for use below market & often "free". Bus riders do not require lots of land to store private property at their destination, & the BBB bus yard, for a system that carries about 80K riders a day, is about the size of just 1 beach parking lot. Cars are inherently inefficient users of space, & I don't think it is unreasonable for drivers to pay a greater share for that privileged allocation of our limited land.
Kenneth L. Neisinger February 02, 2013 at 03:02 AM
My wife's car was stuck in this for an hour today. They almost had to rent her a car. Hopefully this weekend will give them enough time to fix the problem. Also, there is something wrong with you if you thought the car was tilted vertical. Is that logical? No. Still for 8 million dollars UCLA should sue that man for taking a lot of their employees money


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