In the days when lunch in Makati meant a quick drive from offices in Malugay street to the MCC [Makati Commercial Center] parking was not even a question any would think of. Whether it was at El Castellano at the top of the Intercon or the Automat, just across the Rizal Theater, vast expanses of asphalt aprons, with young little trees, struggling to give a semblance of shade in the baking noon day sun, were there for the taking. Signs saying "Car Park Full" were unheard off.

In time, when Bancom fueled the Salcedo and Legaspi Village Boom, so did car plans. Makati's streets were no longer enough as lumpy, muddy and patchy grass empty lots doubled as parking. By the mid-seventies, ease of parking, Makati's trump card over the elder downtown CBD of Escolta, was no longer true.

At about the same time, I was traveling to city centers in old Europe where space is even tighter and labor far more expensive. Thus they had to resort to automatic parking garages. My first encounter with such was in Milano's Zona Centralle. It was a "Parcheggio" along Via Fatebenefratelli, near the Cavour hotel. Since this was Milan, with its drab fronted post war buildings, nothing was to identify the place as a parking bldg. apart from a largish blue sign with a big white ?P? and a white "moustache" roof icon over the P. Driving my little FIAT into the forecourt, there was a solitary old parking attendant wearing the obligatory blue lab coat, worn by the service trade.

Lab coat motioned me to drive to a turntable about the size of the car, close all windows, lock the car and give the keys to him. Uttering "Prego", he then gave me a receipt then walked to a wall switch, presses a button and the car rotates to face front. After that a wall of big elevator doors opened to swallow my car. Curious as to how and where my little FIAT was going, I motioned to Lab coat if I could peep and I was given a nod, the international sign of the affirmative. There, I saw a vast subterranean "cabinet" full of cars sitting on what look like "car drawers". I watched as my car traveled forward, then paused, then went up several stories, paused again, moved left and finally came to rest in its proper drawer.

Several years later, I was to find similar systems in use by the NCP, London's car park monopoly. Somehow, I wasn't sure if those parking buildings with car elevators in Manhattan's theater district were automatic considering so many hands to tip and accents out of "the Sopranos".

Back home ten years later, Parking lots and garages that had automatic barriers, ticket stations with parking capacity countdowns, walls, proper paths, lights, paving and legal waivers claiming no liability were starting to become common. Ayala parking systems was the first to deploy Japanese style 3-storey steel parking buildings which can be set up and dismantled rather quickly. Some private companies tried Swiss and Austrian made twin layer hydraulic parking systems like what one sees in service stations, the difference being that another car can park underneath the "lifted" car. For giant parking malls like SM's Mall of Asia, the convenience of overhead light indicators on vacant slots avoids the lengthy search for an empty slot. But since empty urban lots used for temporary parking are not going to remain empty for long, the incentive to invest in parking facilities, much less crushed aggregate to keep mud at bay is surely diminished.

Inspired by the robotized new car delivery glass parking tower of Autostadt in Volkswagen's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Engineer Mario Montejo reinvented automatic car parking to suit Philippine conditions. As CEO of Northwest Steel Technologies, which began as a steel mill in Seattle, Montejo installed the country's first automated parking space in Frontera Verde. Dubbed the Robotic Car Park it only takes 2 minutes to park from the time the driver deposits the car at the ramp to the time the robotized parking platform goes up and shifts sideways to a desired vacant slot.

The procedure is easy. After parking the car, the owner has a fingerprint scan and he/she can now leave as the "intelligent" parking platform goes about its work. Retrieving a car takes just about 2 and half minutes from the time the owner's finger print is scanned a final time. The automatic parking system uses the latest in electronics and computer technology to ensure owner-vehicle security.

The Robotic Car Park occupies around 350 square meters but can accommodate 72 cars. Being an ISO 9001:2000 certified company, Northwest's steel structures are fully reusable/transferable utilizing minor foundation work. A Robotic Car Park needs only a staff of three and no valets. There are no long ramps or stairs that take up space and since no human hands touch the vehicle during the parking process, cars won't get scratched or dented. Fuel emissions are reduced as there's no need to drive/search for an empty slot. Accusations of joy rides and lost personal belongings against parking staff are a thing of the past. Drop-off and retrieval time is abbreviated. Smart parking is also handicapped friendly. It's not noisy and the steel structure lends itself to metal cladding or billboard tarpaulins. Right now, Frontera Verde only charges twenty five Pesos for the privilege of parking by robot.

With cars of the next generation possessing the ability to self-park themselves by a curb or in a single garage, having a car park do the parking for you becomes as natural and as common as a power tail gate closer. The Robotic Car Park looks like a space and cost effective solution to multiply the capacity of temporary parking lots and even large condominium buildings. The next step is to reform something even older and even more resistant to change : the building codes of most cities and towns. It high time these old laws and prescribed clearances are revisited so as to impose wider turning radii and pavement easements so that vehicles entering and exiting any parking space, driveway or mall need not block through traffic when merging onto the main road.