Philippine-made hi-tech parking

With the car population rapidly increasing in urban centers like Metro Manila, the demand for parking space is booming. Shopping mall and office tower developers provide basement parking, car park buildings and/or open parking lots but these eat up plenty of precious land, are almost always full and are costly to maintain and operate. Metro Manila is fast running out of parking space.
Enter the Robotic Car Park, an invention of Filipino engineers that not only occupies minimal land area but can also be transferred from place to place. The Robotic Car Park came to my attention when Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Mario G. Montejo mentioned it in passing during a talk at a weekly media forum. It turned out that the Robotic Car Park is not a DOST project, but a product of Northwest Steel Technologies, a manufacturing company in Bulacan that Montejo used to head and divested from when he was appointed to the DOST.

The first Robotic Car Park is located at the corner of Frontera Vera and Julia Vargas Avenue in the Tiendesitas-SM area of Pasig City. A three-storey steel building with no walls, it was built in 2009 and occupies a corner of the 350 square meter open parking lot operated by Ortigas & Co. It can hardly be noticed from Frontera Vera Street. When I went to see it last Thursday afternoon, not one car was parked in any of the 72 parking slots. The customers, perhaps wary of new-fangled, high-tech things, parked their vehicles in the open on the ground. But the staff operating the car park told me that when the lot gets full, customers use the Robotic Car Park. The cost of parking there or in the open is the same: P25 flat rate.

How it operates. Described in laymans terms, this is how the Robotic Car Park (RCP) operates. (The robot here does not look like a mechanical human being, but instead is a flat, moving pallet.) After a car is driven up the right ramp (there are two ramps, left and right) into the RCP and left there, a flat, robotic pallet with blue lights on its side borders slides under the platform on which the car is parked. The robot moves the platform and the car sideways leftwards into a large, open elevator at the center which then moves forward farther into the RCP. When there is an empty slotin this case, all the slots were empty, so the elevator stopped at the farthest corner on the left side of the RCPthe robot under the platform raises the platform and moves the platform and the car on it into the empty slot. Then the robot and the elevator return to the center of the RCP.

When the driver of the car is ready to leave, the elevator retrieves the platform and the car on it and moves back to the front section of the RCP with the robot underneath. Then the platform (and the car on it) is moved sideways rightward to the original position. The platform rotates counterclockwise to bring the car facing forward so that the car can be driven forward down the ramp and out of the RCP.

Montejo disclosed that the idea for a RCP struck him when he viewed future trends on a Discovery Channel television program that showed the Volkswagen car park. He said that his RCP uses many different, unique components, all manufactured by Northwest Steel, that make his invention patentable. In fact, the RCP is undergoing the patenting process now.

Approached. He has been approached by multinationals who want to buy his invention. They were surprised that his team could develop it in only one and a half years. While the concept was Montejos, two other engineersone in charge of computer controls and a structural engineer helped him to complete it. Northwest Steel plans to dismantle the RCP next month, upgrade it to operate faster with bigger slots to accommodate large vehicles like minivans and full-size SUVs, then re-install it in Greenhills, San Juan, in January.

The first RCP cost P20 million to build at P300,000 per car slot, a total of 72 slots. The operating cost of electricity is P5 per slot. A newer RCP is in the works that will park 80 cars under a roof on less than 100 square meters of land. Open parking is the most expensive because of the cost of the land, Montejo says, Whats more, the cars are exposed to the elements because there is no roof. He points out that when you factor in the cost of commercial landsay, P50,000 or P100,000 per square meterthe RCP clearly enjoys a business advantage. And to top it all, the RCP is transferable.

Before he entered government service, Montejo was a self-described technopreneur manufacturing innovative engineering products at Northwest Steel for 22 years. He was selected as one of the 100 Outstanding Alumni of the University of the Philippines College of Engineering and in 1959 received the Filipino Inventors Societys Gold Medal Award for Creative Research. Aside from the RCP, he produced the first Philippine-made Waterfall Screens, gabions used by the National Irrigation Administration, the countrys first motorized zipline and the ship-to-shore cranes used at the Oroport in Cagayan de Oro City. When the newly elected President Benigno C. Aquino III appointed Montejo to head the DOST, he cited Montejo and his team for designing and building the featured slides and waves at the Water Fun Amusement Park using Filipino technology.
Philippine Department of Science and Technology
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