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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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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