Futurists reveal vision for ‘fluid’ car parks that change with demand

29 Mar 2018

Image: Leonardo da/Shutterstock

If autonomous cars are to become the norm in the future, car parks could look a whole lot more compact, which will be a major boon to city planners.

Parking your car is not only frustrating for the driver when there are limited spaces, but it causes headaches for city planners who have to account for hundreds of vehicles in a prime city location.

However, as new research shows, a world where autonomous vehicles (AVs) are the norm could drastically reduce the size of car parks, and the headaches they cause.

In a paper published to the journal Transportation Research Part B, a team from the University of Toronto calculated that a well-designed space could accommodate 62pc more cars than a conventional one and, depending on the dimensions, it could be increased higher to 87pc more cars.

The key to the problem is the way current car parks are designed, the team said, as they are configured into ‘islands’ of cars that can each pull in or out of a spot.

Meanwhile, a car park for AVs could resemble a solid grid, with outer cars moving aside as needed to let the inner cars enter and exit.

To calculate the perfect car park, Mehdi Nourinejad and his team created a computer model in which they could simulate the effects of various layouts for AV car parks.

The team then used an algorithm to optimise the design for various factors, including minimising the number of relocations and maximising the proportion of the lot that was used for parking versus lanes for relocation, entering or exiting.

Fluid car park design

Another advantage of an AV car park, the research showed, was that its design doesn’t need to be fixed forever.

Co-author of the paper, Sina Bahrami, said: “For example, if you need to pack more cars into the lot, you don’t need to paint new parking spaces. Instead, the operator can just signal the cars to rearrange themselves. It will take longer to retrieve your vehicle, but you will fit more cars in.”

Matthew Roorda, also involved in the research, said the aim is to overhaul city planning and give valuable space in cities back to more useful needs.

“Right now, our downtown cores have giant municipal parking lots next to major attractions,” he said. “AVs could allow us to both shrink and relocate these parking lots, opening up valuable space in cities.”

The concept is not perfect, however, as the researchers admit that building an AV car park further out of the city could cause traffic chaos.

“If we locate AV parking lots too far away from major attractions, we could end up with streets crowded with vehicles that have zero passengers, which would be worse,” Roorda said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic