A new facility at Dusseldorf Airport offers a fully automated, intelligent parking service. The premise: less space for more cars. But does the system work as advertised? After all, it proposes a solution for many urban parking problems. A self-experiment.

A short break often starts with a bout of stress: Last-minute packing, followed by the inevitable traffic jam on the way to the airport. Anyone who has scoured airport parking, level by level, for that elusive free spot while the window for check-in relentlessly closes, knows what real stress is. Yet this particular part of the process could become a thing of the past thanks to the novel PremiumPLUS parking, at least at Dusseldorf Airport. And while the proposed scheme might sound like valet parking, the reality differs in a decisive detail: Here, guests are not greeted by smartly dressed young men, but by Ray. A parking robot.

Ray only wants to park cars

Just a few steps from the terminal, Parking 3 awaits my custom. The structure was retrofitted by the Bavarian company Serva-Ts with the Ray parking system – an invention clearly inspired by science fiction. The result looks like a 1990s vision of a spaceship interior. Almost involuntarily, my thoughts drift back to all those series where robots develop a life of their own. But Ray is harmless. Ray only wants to park cars. My route leads me straight into one of the illuminated handover boxes. A handy screen indicates whether the car has been positioned correctly between the bright blue markings. It takes some finesse to hit the right spot and my smart looks a bit forlorn in the box designed for all vehicle types and sizes. An app lets prospective customers pre-transmit their departure and arrival times as well as their vehicle type to prep Ray for the parking process. What follows are a few security questions on the check-in screen – did you put the hand brake on? Is no one left in the car? Did you remove all personal belongings? – and then I am done and ready for take-off.

Parking robot Ray at Dusseldorf Airport, smart magazine
A new facility at Dusseldorf Airport offers a fully automated, intelligent parking service.
Parking robot Ray at Dusseldorf Airport, smart magazine
The Ray parking system – an invention clearly inspired by science fiction. The result looks like a 1990s vision of a spaceship interior.
Parking robot Ray at Dusseldorf Airport, smart magazine
Just a few steps from the terminal, Parking 3 awaits the custom
Parking robot Ray at Dusseldorf Airport, smart magazine
Parking robot Ray at Dusseldorf Airport, smart magazine
Before Ray approaches the smart from the side, his rotating scanners and sensors measure the car precisely to adjust the robot to the car’s length
Parking robot Ray at Dusseldorf Airport, smart magazine
An app lets prospective customers pre-transmit their departure and arrival times as well as their vehicle type to prep Ray for the parking process.

Into the gap at three meters per second

Although I could head straight for my plane, it is worth watching Ray in action. One of Dusseldorf’s three robots is already nearing the handover box. Before Ray approaches my smart from the side, his rotating scanners and sensors measure the car precisely to adjust the robot to the smart’s length – in this case, the smallest setting. And while I am still wondering whether my girlfriend is likely to bite off my head (or the robot’s laser scanner) should her vehicle get scratched, Ray has already extended his arms underneath the chassis and carefully raised the entire vehicle like a forklift. Once at the right transport height, the robot withdraws to the storage area where it carries the car to its most expedient parking position, depending on size and planned duration. And although Ray reaches the swift pace of three meters per second, the whole process looks quite safe.

High-tech at introductory prices

Naturally, this new scheme is equally about customer convenience and increased efficiency. Ray assures optimal utilization of the available parking space. Cars are distributed according to size and parking duration. “With comparable vehicle numbers, this can generate space savings of 40 to 60 percent,” according to Rupert Koch, managing director of Serva-Ts. Sounds like a solution for more than just a single airport. Economies of scale might also explain the competitive price of this parking extravaganza, which – at currently 29 euros/day – is no more expensive than nearby conventional parking. And Ray is definitely worth getting used to: Straight after touchdown, my smart is already waiting for me, positioned just right for immediate travel in one of the system’s handover boxes. And Ray is always up to date. Should a flight be delayed or arrive early, Ray simply adjusts his schedule in line with the flight data base. Drivers, in turn, can use the dedicated app to inform the system of any alterations to their personal travel schedule. And since all credit card details are entered on booking, there is no need to trawl the garage for a pay station, putting me on a fast-track home. Or straight towards the next traffic jam. But that’s no longer part of Ray’s responsibility.

All Photos including Header image: Oktay Cetinkaya