There’s no denying it: parking garages are very ugly, and take up a lot of space in the American city. While the autonomous car could kill the parking garage dead in the decades to come, a construction company in Japan has innovated the parking garage today by taking it underground and making it autonomous. Yes, a robotic parking garage will swallow your car into the Earth until you next need it, freeing up the city streets presumably for like, houses, trees, and people.

ECO Park is the brainchild of Giken, the machine construction company, and the next step in its automated bike storage system (called ECO Cycle). The underground car garage uses a magnetic card to identify the user and open up a car-sized elevator. When it’s time to get the car out again, the user slots the same card into the reader. While there are currently four in Japan today, the company wants to bring the idea to the United States and elsewhere.

Satoshi Kamimura, head of the construction design and planning group for Giken, spoke to Inverse about how the team wants to change parking for good.

Where did the idea come from?

ECO Park is a fully automated underground parking system with the design concept of “Culture Aboveground, Function Underground”. The concept is to maximize land usage efficiency.

Automobiles are in use just three-to-five percent of their lifetime, while they are parked in the remainder of lifetime. In other words, cars are parking for 23 hours a day. Considering the scarcity of available land space, if a huge land area is used only for parking purpose, it cannot be considered that the land is used in optimum manner. It is ideal that car parking is located underground and aboveground space is used for residential space, amenity area or natural environment.

Also, parking efficiency is one of the key issues in terms of land usage. ECO Park has higher parking efficiency than traditional drive-in underground car parks, which enables land usage to be maximized.

Why should someone choose to build an ECO Park over a more traditional underground garage?

There are several reasons:

High parking efficiency. ECO Park requires a land area of six square meters only while traditional driving-in underground car park normally requires a land area of more than 10 square meters.

Faster operations. The average retrieval time of ECO Park is only 25 seconds.

Rapid Construction. As the size of the construction work can be minimized as well as the land use, ECO Park require a construction period of four to five months only.

Versatile Foundation Concept. If ECO Parks or ECO Cycles are constructed beneath superstructures, they can act as a piled foundation since their circular outer shaft is regarded as a large diameter pile. Piled foundations are formed by long, slender, columnar elements typically made from steel or reinforced concrete. They are commonly constructed to support loads from superstructures and are best suited to a weak soil or where the vertical load may not be suitable for other foundations. The number of conventional piles can be dramatically reduced being replaced by the ECO Parks or ECO Cycles.

An illustration of how the Eco Park could work at a tourist destination.
An illustration of how the Eco Park could work at a tourist destination.

What happens in the event of a power failure, how does a user retrieve their car?

ECO Park will stop in the event of a power failure. Therefore, users have to wait to take their cars till the power will be recovered.

Besides that, if the lift is on the ground level when the event of power failure is occurred, the operation will be continued automatically after the electrical problem is solved. However, manual operation will be needed when the lift is in underground.

What happens if a person sits inside the car when it is lowered into the ground, is there a way to escape?

Human detection sensor is equipped as standard in the entrance booth. As long as the sensor is sensing people inside of cars, the lift of ECO Park never go down to parking lots. From the above, people will never sit inside the car when it is lowered into the ground.

How much does it cost to build an ECO Park?

The price of ECO Park in Japan is between 400 and 500 billion yen ($3.5-4.5 million) including necessary construction works.

Do you have any plans to build any automated garages in the United States or elsewhere?

We plan to penetrate overseas markets by licensing the design and manufacture of ECO Park. To provide ECO Parks in the United States, a local company needs to enter into the ECO Park license for the market in advance. There is no licensee in the United States yet.

Are there any design adjustments that need to be made for the American market?

Due to the difference in size and weight of cars, industrial standards and regulations between Japan and the United States, design adjustments may be required.

What are the next steps for this project?

We intend to improve our ECO Cycles to be more efficient, by making them faster and more economical.

Are there any plans for a future ECO Park that works with autonomous cars?

If the number of autonomous cars increases in the future, we may consider developing new ECO Parks for autonomous cars.

This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Photos via Giken