Instead of tossing the keys to an underpaid teenager, what if you could have a robot valet park your car? Travelers at France's Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport now have that option. Startup Stanley Robotics is deploying four autonomous robots to park cars at one of the airport's lots.
Fliers drop their cars off in garage-like boxes for robots to come and fetch them. The boxy robots, which look like overfed Star Wars droids, use forklift-like prongs to lift cars and move them into parking spaces. Stanley Robotics claims this method allows 50 percent more cars to fit into a given area. That's because cars can be placed closer together and several rows deep without the need for aisles.
The valet system uses car owners' flight information to determine when to retrieve a car. Each vehicle is brought back to a designated box, meaning owners don't have to search for them in crowded parking lots, Stanley Robotics noted.
Stanley announced plans for the robot valet system in 2017 and deployed robots on a trial basis at Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport last year. Robots now cover 500 parking spaces, and Stanley hopes to eventually expand to 6,000 spaces. The startup hasn't discussed plans to offer robot valet service at other airports, although it has conducted trials at Paris' Charles de Gaulle and Germany's Düsseldorf airports, according to Engadget. Another test at London's Gatwick Airport is planned for later this year.
The ability to place cars very close together makes robot valets very efficient, but there may be other ways to achieve that benefit. If self-driving cars ever become mainstream, they will be able to park themselves. Hyundai and Daimler have discussed autonomous-valet systems, where a car disgorges its human occupants and then drives off to park itself. Future autonomous vehicles may also be used primarily for ride-hailing, meaning they will not spend much time parked.