Retrotechtacular: ROTOPARK Is A Futuristic Parking Structure From 40 Years Ago


Pictured above is a functioning model of an automated underground parking structure which was built and used, but obviously it never caught on widely. That makes us a bit sad, as it removes the need to find an empty parking spot every time you use the garage; and having a robot park your car for you seems very future-y.

The gist of the ROTOPARK system is a carousel and elevator system for parking cars. just drive into a single-stall garage at ground level, take your ticket, and walk out the people-hole. The garage stall floor is a sled which moves down an elevator (shown as blue stalls on the left half of the image) to be stored away in the rotating carousels of cars.

Obviously mechanical failure is a huge issue here. What if the elevator breaks? Also, at times of high traffic we think getting your vehicle back out of the system would be quite a bit slower than the “static” parking garages we’re used to. Oh well, maybe some day. Check out the classic marketing video after the break which shows off the concept, construction, and use of the system.

The working version was actually built at the Geneva Airport. We found some extra info in a YouTube comment but couldn’t find a source for the info so take it for what it’s worth:

The ROTOPARK was commissioned in 1974. It had a capacity of 450 cars. But only 2 rings have been put into service, a capacity of 180 cars.
In 1975-1976, they tried to serve two inner rings without success.
Since 1988, mechanical problems have damaged the vehicles.
In June 1993, the operation was stopped.

You can find a little bit of info, including promotional brochures from the ’70s and ’80s on this page.If nothing else, the system certainly reminds us of the underground bicycle parking structures in service in Tokyo.

[Thanks Randall]

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

50 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: ROTOPARK Is A Futuristic Parking Structure From 40 Years Ago

  1. I remember reading about something similar but don’t remember where it was. I remember there were a couple of problems.

    Bigger vehicles such as trucks didn’t fit. Not a big deal unless there is an unusually large percentage of them.

    The bigger problem was a pre-fetch. It takes time for the system to fetch the car so it wasn’t uncommon for some doofus to call for the car then wander off for half an hour or more while other people had to wait until the doofus returned. A five minute wait would be useful there. Don’t get your car out of the bay and the car would be returned to the bay and the doofus would need to wait in the back of the line.

    1. Maybe a cache system would be better. You could move a few cars to the cache when the owners order them to show up or maybe using a prediction system algorithm.
      So someone that always goes to the mall for a haircut on thursday and says for a hour would have their car ready when they were done. At an office you could share your calendar with the garage. In a mall BLE could track your location based on your cell phone and move your car to the cache when you walk toward the parking garage.
      For some that maybe too much sharing.

      1. I was thinking more than one stall. Like five or six with a single common entrance and a separate common exit. Like a DIY car wash.

        But people will pay for those other features, but how well would it work? I worked in places where meetings always ran longer than scheduled.

      2. Another alternative would be a “move it or lose it” type system. Basically, it pulls your car out when you request it. If you aren’t there to pick your car up when it presents it for you, it just shuffles it back in and you get to start over again when you finally get back. Basically, if you actually want your car, don’t walk away.

    2. A fine system would work better. If you do not remove your car in 120 second , you are fined $$$ for every minute it sits there until 5 minutes pass then it is returned and will not be released until the fine is paid.

      Nothing motivates selfish people than having something cost them more because of their behaivoir.

  2. Another issue these days would be liability… if someone stayed in the car (preventing that would require extra guards etc…) it is likely they could be injured on the machinery.

    I don’t see time being an issue it would probably be faster than driving out of a parking deck.. but people like to be in control rather than site around and wait even if it is faster than doing things themselves.

    Seems like those metal grates would damage the tires…

    1. Most garages (ones here in the city anyways) have a parking attendant. Having one one staff 24/7 would be trivial. Probably a better job than working at the 7-11.

  3. There are several automatic parking still functioning in Buenos Aires, the ones I’ve seen are simpler though. They are giant elevators that can also move sideways. Cars are stored in two vertical grids (one front side, and the other in the back of the lift). More like the robots that pull things from shelves in automated warehouses. Here is a picture of the elevator mechanism

  4. I’m seeing those elevator chain supports on wither side of the car and thinking…what happens if those get out of sync? That probably explains the problems they were having with damaged cars in Geneva.

    “I’m sorry, sir, your car is stuck in the system.”

    Loved the mod girl in the brochure, and the Triumph and Mustang…why did they have to stop making those? And don’t give me that “safety” crap.

    1. The reason they stopped building Triumphs was that they were British cars built by communists. The unions/free enterprise balance was way too far in the unions favor. It was common for workers to actually sabotage cars. Even without the unions they had issues. Peter Egan once wrote about the time his Jeep got hit by a mortar round. His comment was that was the only time that he had a car blow up that was not British.
      The Mustang went a different path. First it grew into a bigger car to handle big block then it became a Pinto derivative when the gas crunch came.
      Do not get me wrong about British cars, they are special but they were not reliable.

      1. Oh, you don’t have to tell me about the legendary unreliability of British cars. But, when they were running, they were so much fun. And the 65 Mustang with a stick and the small 8 in it was a hoot…until the doors rotted out.

        If we could only get Toyota to reproduce the MGB, we’d have a winner.

        1. @ka1axy: Not Toyota, but Mazda did their own version of the MGB, in the Miata/MX-5. And yes, it’s been a winner, with lots of sales and long years of production.

  5. This has to have pretty high costs to keep operational and power all of the machinery. Excepting places where real-estate is really expensive and large-scale underground construction without screwing up existing subways/sewers/utilities is possible, I can’t see this being cost-competitive. I doubt many people are willing to pay substantially more for the convenience of having their car moved to a parking spot and the 5-10 minutes they save.

    1. This could be adapted pretty easily to a vertical system in places that don’t have the easy underground construction. The only major change would be the placement sequence, it would be more complex but doable. The economic incentive for switching to this system could also come from outside real estate, cities could push for more compact or hidden parking either through incentives for or fines against the old style.

  6. This technology is best for Valet Parking. This way a large hotel can increase the number of rooms and decrease the amount of digging required in order to park vehicles.

    However it will still struggle with vans and SUV’s with higher head room.

  7. These kinds of parking garages are VERY popular in Japan. We have tower parks, which have a drive in elevator. Park, take your ticket, walk away. The car goes up and slides left or right into a free bay.
    Or ‘wheel style’ in which you drive directly into the bay, and the whole rack rotates like a ferris wheel. These usually only hold 4 to 6 cars.
    The one near my house is an ‘over/under style’ where there are 6 possible stalls to pull into (you have to know which to use, and these are monthly service, so you are assigned a stall). After pulling in, your car either drops down below the ground and the above stall drops to ground level, or your car goes up one level. With two cars loaded, One up, one down) the bay stall is full, and the center space is blocked for recovery of a car.
    I have never seen a carousel here though (but they may exist.. who knows). I suspect they take up too much land space. square meters is at a premium here. One of the big auto makers has a system at their museum similar to that of the VW one linked above.

    Most of the above mentioned ‘problems’ are easily solved, by suggestions you all have already mentioned:
    1: Here, garage maintenance is often cheaper the single unit cost of parking. Renting a parking spot here can add 3 to 4 hundred USD to your apartment rental, and could be half a neighborhood away. So, yes. Robot parking spaces are often CHEAPER than parking lots and garages.
    2: The systems do not tolerate dumbasses. It wont even bother to fetch your car till you pay the ticket fee (or slap your monthly pass on the reader). If you do not vacate the space within 2 or 3 minutes of it being fetched, it re-parks the car and issues a new ticket. You can still fetch your car again with the original ticket stub, but have to wait at least the minimum parking time (usually 20 or 30 minutes).
    3: these systems are not used for high traffic parking. only high volume. So, you wont find them at shopping malls. most of them are employee, business, or personal (monthly) parking.
    4: If it IS a shopping center / temporary parking, they always have an attendant to ‘operate’ the system. Really they are there to keep the stupid at bay.

    1. Actually MRE they do use them at shopping centers. Takashimaya in Kashiwa has a 2 elevator parking tower that can easily hold 40 vehicles. The wait to get your car is sometimes 5-10 minutes (waiting for other’s to get their cars). Though mostly I see a lot of Hotels using them.

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