Shanghai building robot-assisted silo garage to tackle parking woes

Engineers on site are busy assembling a silo excavator custom-made for this operation, called "Dream", which is reportedly the world's largest of its kind and will dig two silos, each measuring 23m across.

Shanghai is building a silo-style smart underground parking lot with what it says is the world’s largest diameter — the latest in a series of moves by the metropolis to alleviate its parking space shortage.

The 150 million-yuan (US$20.58 million) project, which is underway in the city’s Jing’an District, will be completed by the end of this year and then go through a trial operation in late December.

Once the trial phase is over, this parking silo will open to the public, with eight entrances and exits.

The vertical car park covers only a floor area of 286 sqm, while boasting 19 stories and 304 spaces — more than 10 times as big as the capacity of a standard garage.

Relying on a pallet system and autonomous car retrieval robots, motorists will be able to fetch their cars in as little as 90 seconds by sending commands via a mobile app.

Under the pallet system, cars are placed in a metal tray-shaped structure to be moved and parked.

Parking woes only getting worse

Shanghai has been grappling with a severe shortage of parking spaces as the city witnessed a spike in car ownership over the past few years.

Making matters worse, the city’s policy to grant a free number plate to full-electric cars has led to a proliferation of EVs on its roads, which contributes to snarled-up traffic and the parking conundrum.

Number plates for fuel-powered vehicles are issued through lotteries in Shanghai and cost as much as 100,000 yuan apiece.

In the face of growing complaints about parking difficulties, the city has been hankering for a solution, including building more automated stereo garages.

Nonetheless, this solution proves tricky as it often encounters opposition from residents who cite problems such as noise, poorer lighting and shrinking greenery to make way for these facilities within residential neighborhoods.

“Various conflicts exist between adding parking spaces and limited land resources,” said Luo Zhimin, general manager of Shanghai Smart Transportation Technology Co., Ltd, a subsidiary of China Railway 15th Bureau Group Corporation.

This entity is part of the China Railway Construction Corporation, one of the largest state-owned builders of infrastructure projects.

As a result of resident opposition, “we were forced to turn our gaze toward the underground space,” said Luo.

Silo excavator to tunnel through the ground

Local reporters making fact-finding trips to the construction site found that preparatory work was going on to tunnel vertically about 50m into the ground.

Engineers on site are busy assembling a silo excavator custom-made for this operation called “Dream”, which is reportedly the world’s largest of its kind and will dig two silos, each measuring 23m across.

According to Luo, the silos are designed to accommodate 304 parking spaces, including 76 that come with EV charging posts.

Of the 19 stories in the silos, six are taller and reserved for SUVs, with the remainder meant for use by smaller sedans and compact vehicles.

Luo told reporters that the some 300 parking spaces would have occupied over 1,000 sqm if they were above the ground.

By contrast, a parking silo structure saves enormous space. What’s more, parking spots with EV chargers can be added depending on residents’ needs in the future.

Valet parking, customized services available

The car park will also be equipped with infrared radiation and thermal sensors to ensure no humans or pets are left inside a car waiting to be parked, lest accidents take place.

After self-initiated safety checks, the automated parking system will carry the car on a pallet to a designated space in the silos.

If motorists are in a hurry, they are allowed to just park temporarily on empty spaces next to the garage. AGV robots will handle the rest of the job in their stead.

The time for car retrieval varies, from 30 seconds for those parked near the top of the silos, to 120-150 seconds for those toward the bottom.

“So the average retrieval time is around 90 seconds,” said Luo, general manager of the construction company behind the project.

He added that during the trial run, the garage operator will also leverage big data technologies to learn about user habits, so as to optimize the experience.

For instance, for motorists who habitually arrive earlier than the chosen time of pickup, the silo garage will lift their cars to higher stories to give them priority.

In addition, robots are on 24-hour standby to help retrieve cars on motorists’ behalf. Controlled via a mobile app, the service of these “valet parkers” is at their fingertips.

The would-be silo car park is replicable across the city, as the builder has formulated three modular designs featuring a silo diameter of 14m, 20m and 23m, Luo, the manager, was quoted as saying in media reports.

“They are highly flexible and can be implemented on a minimum 1,000 sqm of land, depending on circumstances surrounding the exact project,” he noted.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at

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