FROM KEITH B. JONES | June 10, 2019

By and large, the general public is unanimously skeptical of robots. And not just the Terminators of science fiction.

I mean, the very first words of this Cnet video are “These terrifying robots from Boston Dynamics…” The very last, for that matter, are “… and which one do you think will rise up and kill us all?”

Admittedly, humanoid robots strike a visceral chord of concern that’s inarguably natural—and, with military interest, perhaps it’s not 100% unwarranted, at least for the bad guys. But just as technology for the military and government programs have seen the applications in civilian life (think Duct Tape, Super Glue and the coolest of all military inventions, Aviator sunglasses), I believe public fear of robots belies their opportunities.

I believe this because I speak from experience…

THE NXT GENERATION OF PARKING SERVICES


Last year, Ace Parking began collaborating with Nxt Robotics. The El Cajon-based startup is a rising star in robotic security.

Those of us in parking and mobility consider safety our number one priority, critical to a complete customer journey.

The idea of anyone walking to their car late at night in a dimly lit downtown garage is unsettling at best. But if you’re being escorted by one of Nxt’s 200-pound robotic security bots that can sustain 30mph for hours on end, equipped with a plethora of sensory technology and alert features like blow horns and gunshot detection, the thought is more fascinating that fearsome.

LiDAR—the same sensory technology used in driverless cars—lets each Nxt robot map its surroundings accurately, and thermal imaging sensors can alert pedestrians as well as security personnel when a potential intruder is nearby.

Security benefits are as obvious as they are numerous. Yet, Nxt robots are as versatile in their applications as your iPhone. Designed with a robust digital platform, we’re able to cherry pick a la carte features optimized to the specific space we want to deploy the bots.

As we’ve implemented new technology, data sourcing has become a major component of facility optimization for Ace Parking. The data that we’re able to collect from automated systems and robotics can easily provide site- and spot-specific analytics that augment and empower the human side of customer service in our and our client’s parking facilities.

Those who know me aren’t surprised that I’m perhaps most excited by the customer service benefits of Nxt Robotics’ applications.

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.

Like a card in a magician’s deck, your car in the crowded parking lot of a popular mall or convention can seem to simply vanish. Beyond security, the ability to escort people to their vehicles, saving time and frustration, can go a long way to refining a complete customer experience.

When deployed, our robots can lead drivers to available stalls, scan parked cars to ensure they’re properly or legally parked. And from a stall-management perspective, mobile parking bots have the potential to reduce both expenses and human errors.

Or, imagine a Wall-E looking robot coming to your assistance when you have payment issues.

Just as the apps on your phone handle a variety of tasks ranging from mundane to complex, as the technology improves, we may find ourselves thinking, “there’s an app for that” when it comes to robotics in parking garages.

PARKING ROBOTS AROUND THE WORLD

Ace isn’t the only company to offer robotic parking solutions.

The City of West Hollywood recently opened a fully-automated parking garage that, “uses vertical and horizontal shuttles to gently move cars into stacks of parking spaces,” explains Wired. It’s revolutionary in terms of automated parking. Without the need to open doors, cars can be parked much more tightly—and to the tune of almost three times the volume, fitting 200 cars in a space that used to hold just 68.

Across the pond, France’s Lyon-Saint-Exupéry airport started its first full-time robot parking service last month using Stanley Robotics’ AV bot with the customer-friendly name Stan.

“We call it a valet parking robot because people just need to drop off their car at the entrance of the car park and then they can basically leave and catch a flight,” says co-founder and COO of Stanley Robotics, Stéphane Evanno.

Stan takes France’s traveller experience into the digital age with modern payment methods that allow tickets to be purchased via smartphone. It also features integrated flight tracking that sends Stan to retrieve a customer’s car when their plane has landed, reducing wait times and making quite the impression.

And let’s not overlook the environmental benefits of robotic parking technology. Parking cars without their engines running reduces noise pollution and carbon footprints.

This is the kind of technological adoption carrying us quickly toward Tomorrowland.

AN INDUSTRY IN NEED OF EARLY ADOPTERS

Of course, the obvious concern about robotic parking is whether or not the technology is relevant in the dawn of autonomous vehicles. If I were an investor looking to put my money into a robotic parking system, I wouldn’t fret too much about relevance. The technology is agile and ever-adaptive; and AV adoption is going far slower than expected.

For now, the biggest hurdle seems to be in customer acceptance.

A lot of companies see the benefits of robotic service augmentation, but feel their customers aren’t so keen. They worry that people are OK knowing robots are there, they just don’t want to see them.

But with the swift permeation of smart technology, I find it hard to believe we’ll wait much longer before the companies who are committed to breaking the mold and elevating their customer experiences embrace robot parking tech. It will be those companies with no shortage of social vanguards in their customer base—the innovators and the early adopters.

Personally, I see robotic technology as an integral cog in the mobility machine. Not a means of replacing manpower, but augmenting it; not a new customer experience, but a refined one.

I imagine my grandfather would be both in awe at the technology being adopted and employed at Ace and impressed by the progressive edge maintained by his erstwhile organization. And I am, too. Though, as I always say, “This isn’t my grandfather’s parking business anymore.”

It’s becoming so much more.

“Ace Mobility Solutions isn’t just a business. It’s the Mobility Revolution in action.”

Keith B. Jones
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