The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Aurélien Cord, chief technology officer and co-founder of Stanley Robotics, a technology company based in Paris that has developed a robotic parking solution. Cord discussed the technology behind its parking valet robot “Stan” and how it addresses the needs of drivers and parking operators.
Eline Chivot: For those who may not be familiar with your company, what is a robotic parking solution, and what are the benefits of using robots to park cars as opposed to humans?
Aurélien Cord: Stanley Robotics was founded in 2015 by a team of three, including myself, and we all come from the world of autonomous driving. Clément and I were researchers in a laboratory of the French Institute for Transport, developing autonomous cars. Stéphane was working at Bosch, developing sensors for autonomous driving. We identified an opportunity to bring those very new technologies to the public, by transferring it into a robot.
A robotic parking solution is a technology deployed in a car park to automatically store your car, strongly optimize parking surface, and increase the number of parking spaces.
For a user, the main benefits of using our technology (compared with a human valet) is a brand-new seamless experience, security, simplicity, and time saving. From drop-off to pick up, it is as simple as child’s play, involving just a few clicks—and you get to keep your keys with you after all. After having booked a parking space online, passengers can drive there and leave their car in a dedicated cabin. The valet robot then picks up the car and parks it in the secure parking lot, a non-public area where it will be safely stored, and protected from any bump or scratch. Upon return, the passenger recovers the car in a cabin.
For parking operators, our technology is a solution that increases the number of spaces more than a human valet could. To save real space, we increase parking density and use efficient block parking: cars are stored in lines of four to ten cars. We then suppress the alley, and increase the number of cars stored in the same area.
Chivot: What types of results have you seen from your initial deployments?
Cord: Since 2018, we have strongly improved the performance of the service, in terms of outdoor robotic know-how and user experience. We conducted a study based on the first 1,000 users of the service: 94.6 percent of our users said they would reuse the service. They find the service simple, fast, and secure. To implement the system, we just had to install cabins which can host people’s cars, and some robots on site.
We have just started to operate our outdoor automated robotic valet system Stan at Lyon’s airport, in partnership with Aéroports de Lyon. 500 spaces will soon be available in one of the airport’s car parks, with four autonomous robots operating simultaneously and 12 cabins to accommodate and return vehicles. This deployment is a new phase of the trial at this airport, following months of validated testing. At the end stage, this system could represent up to 2,000 additional spaces for parking and extend it to more than 6,000 spaces in total.
Chivot: Which current and future challenges of the urban environment does it address? How will this change with the increase in ride-sharing?
Cord: Currently, we mainly work with airports for which environmental issues are very important, considering their impressive growth. By creating 50 percent more parking spaces within the same area, we support them with this main challenge. We facilitate intermodal transportation. We support a sustainable growth vision by reducing airports’ footprint, preserving the integrity of the surrounding soil, and limiting CO2 emissions by eliminating traffic on parking lots. Stan operates with an electric motor that does not emit CO2.
Today we are clearly focused on the airport industry on purpose, because many projects can be envisaged and it has considerable market potential. But we do have knowledge contact with many other industries—typically anywhere where a car needs to be moved more efficiently, and more automatically, the same solution can be applicable.
With ride-sharing, this is still about a car that has to be parked, so our robot can also be used for this. When it comes to the future of ride-sharing, I would say: let’s wait and see. I have no idea how people really are ready to share cars and to accept the constraints that come with it. It is important to notice that everybody needs a car simultaneously for different purposes: vacations, week-ends, etc. The storage of vehicles will remain challenging in any case, and we will be there for that.
Chivot: What types of technological problems did you have to solve to develop your service? What issues or concerns may be affecting the roll-out of systems like yours?
Cord: The first was to create a robot capable of lifting any car model and run outdoors through any kind of weather conditions. The second was to create the best user experience as possible from the moment you book online until the moment you come back to pick up your car. This experience needs to be understandable to anyone, no matter your age or your qualification.
The roll-out is very simple, you just have to install some cabins and set up a storage area.
Generally, no one loves car parking. I believe the emergence of automated systems can address such pains or hurdles. And people and companies are ready to trust technology for this. Automated systems have already taken over tasks that originally were performed by humans: planes are automated, some trains are automated, elevators are automated. It’s just that people don’t even notice it anymore. In time, concerns about autonomous driving will be appeased.
Chivot: What happens when something goes wrong, such as extreme environmental conditions or other unanticipated problems?
Cord: We based our technology on sensors and actuators that are widely used in autonomous driving. They are very robust and resilient to adverse conditions. And to validate that, nothing is better than real-life experiments—our robots are fit for any environmental conditions. If something goes wrong, our operations team in the car park is here to solve the problem.