🔒 Forward march of robots continues – London Gatwick Airport robot parking trial

LONDON — While inventors of self-driving cars are still battling with the moral dilemmas of choosing who to hit when a car is headed for a collision, London’s second busiest airport Gatwick is gearing up to use futuristic robots to park cars in its long term car park thereby doubling its parking capacity. Motorists will entrust their cars to Stan who will pack cars like sardines in a can until your return. Shopping, paying for parking, calling for information, banking and other ordinary daily chores with no human contact unless things go horribly wrong is becoming a daily reality not only for people living abroad, but also for South Africans who are used to many keen workers around them. Stan raises a number of questions, do we trust him not to have a bug or can he be hacked and cause a really big pile-up and if a version is rolled out in South Africa, many may not miss the car guards, but it does represent another step in the forward march of the robots to take the jobs of humans. – Linda van Tilburg

By Thulasizwe Sithole

Gatwick Airport has submitted plans to its local planning council to use futuristic robots to park people’s cars in a pilot project that could be in operation by August this year.  The airport will launch the pilot scheme in the long stay car park for three months at its South terminal at the height of the European summer when thousands of Brits leave for their annual holidays.

The French company behind the robots, Stanley Robotics have trialled similar robots at Charles de Gaulle last year and they say the reaction was overwhelmingly good and many motorists did not even know a robot had parked their car. The company now has a permanent outdoor installation at a smaller airport, Lyon-Saint Exupéry in France.

Presentation of the valet robot at the Lyon Saint Exupéry airport by Stanley Robotics.

Stanley Robotics liken their robots to Wall-E in the Pixar Movie. “Passengers will be able to quickly drop off their cars in a spacious, dedicated area right at the entrance of a car park.” Stan scans each vehicle for shape and size, slides under the car, lifts it by its wheels and parks it in a secure spot. Cars can be parked door-to-door as there is no need for doors to be opened. Co-founder of Stanley Robotics, Stéphane Evanno calls it ‘block parking.

As the car booking is linked to passenger’s flight numbers, the car is returned in time for collection at exactly the same spot where the motorist dropped it off. Any vehicle shorter than six metres can be lifted and the car park should be more secure as no public would be allowed in. Evanno admits some of the teething problems included people not understanding what they were supposed to do, but says Stanley Robotics have refined road-markings, screens and signs.

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