How Have Smart Parking Systems Evolved in the Last Several Years?


The development and continuous improvement of the automobile have brought great convenience to virtually every everyone since the first cars appeared over a century ago. Like many technological developments, along with convenience came new challenges. A major one is where to park all these vehicles, considering that: There are more people in the world every year. An increasing majority of people own one, three, or even more vehicles. More and more members of the population choose urban or suburban lifestyles. The combination of these factors generate an ever-increasing demand for parking space in population centers. In response to this demand, high-rise parking garages spring up with ever greater frequency. As is often the case, the solution comes with new challenges. High-capacity parking garages lead to long lines of cars waiting to enter, stop, and receive their entry ticket and move to a parking space. The result: frustration for the drivers and congestion on the streets. Smart parking systems using ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras speed the flow of entering cars since they can continue directly to an available slot without stopping at the entry gate. This article reviews the history of how we’ve arrived to this level of sophistication and briefly describe how these systems work. We’ll also showcase the role Adaptive Recognition, a leader in the automatic plate-recognition business since 1991, plays in these systems and how parking lots and garages benefit from some of the most capable cameras in the market.

Automated Parking Systems (APSs)

APSs – short for automated parking systems – are generally understood as those establishments where drivers leave their cars at the entrance and the garage attendants move them to parking spaces, using varying degrees of automation. They can be considered as the predecessors of smart parking systems. However, unlike APSs, intelligent parking systems are facilities where the entry and exit to and from the garage are automated, and drivers park their own cars.

Though there were relatively few cars on the streets in the early 20th century, large cities already needed more parking space than was available on the street or in surface parking lots. The Garage Rue de Ponthieu – which you can see in the picture above – opened in Paris in 1905. It used internal elevators to move cars to various levels in the concrete structure, and attendants then moved the cars to available spaces.

After WWII, as cars grew bigger, the Garage Rue de Ponthieu couldn’t accommodate them and was ultimately destroyed to make space for other development. Other garages designed for smaller prewar cars either met a similar fate or were converted to other uses.


The Paternoster APS

The Paternoster system used a chain that passed over sprockets above and below the ground surface and carried platforms accommodating one car each. As the chain rotated over the sprockets, each platform arrived at the surface for loading or unloading. The system occupied only the surface space of two cars but could accommodate several vehicles “stacked” vertically along the chain’s path.

The Paternoster system was first developed in the 1920s and was used for several decades in various parts of the world. In the 1990s and 2000s, there was renewed interest in the system in Japan. During those 20 years, the Japanese built Paternoster systems accommodating about 40,000 cars.

Kent Automatic Garages

In this automatic parking system, an electric “parker” rolled under the rear axle of a car, lifted the rear wheels, then moved it to an available space, using elevators when it was necessary to change levels. Among the first of these systems, a Kent garage opened in 1928 in New York. This arrangement was quite efficient, often parking and retrieving cars in less than a minute.

APS History Continued

The last half of the 20th century saw other automatic systems of various designs developed in the U.S., UK, Europe, Asia, and Central America. 74 Pigeon Hole, Bowser, and Roto Park facilities appeared in the U.S. in the mid-50s. The Auto Stacker opened in London a few years later. Many of these systems developed mechanical problems and fell out of favor as long waits frustrated customers.

Despite the shortcoming of APSs, a few of them are still in use – the two largest being in Kuwait and Denmark, with respective capacities of 2,300+ and 1,000+ vehicles.

The APSs benefited from efficient space utilization since no space was used for ramps, and cars could be parked close together. However, as cities became more crowded, most of these systems proved ill-suited for concentrated demand at rush hours and sporting or entertainment events due to sequential handling of vehicles being too slow.

Smart Parking Systems With Automatic Entry/Exit Controls

Systems where customers park and retrieve their own cars are more time-efficient in high-demand periods, and are more flexible than the APSs we’ve described. Still, their efficiency depends on smooth flow in and out. To accomplish this, various systems have been used, such as:

Card- or Sticker-Based Controls

Before ANPR technology developed near the end of the 20th century, many garages issued electronically readable cards or bumper/windshield stickers to parkers with established relationships. They worked well as long as the driver remembered to use the card or the sticker was kept intact.

Unfortunately, these cards and stickers proved to be a significant weakness. Lost or forgotten cards and smudged or torn stickers caused delays in the smooth flow. Of course, other arrangements had to be made to accommodate occasional users without a contractual relationship with the facility.

Smart Parking Systems Using ANPR Cameras 

Smart parking systems built on the use of ANPR cameras are one of if not the most sophisticated solutions for partially or fully automating the parking experience. ANPR cameras can identify all approaching cars, whether or not they have a contract or have even been seen before. There’s no need for them to stop fully, which speeds the flow of vehicles entering the facility, reducing driver frustration and congestion in the street and delighting traffic authorities and other motorists. 

Since every car carries a unique license plate, the data can be entered into any software or database once the camera has read and recognized the plate. If it’s an occasional parker with no contract, the system simply records the in and out times and generates a temporary file which can be deleted when the driver has paid the fee and left the facility. If it’s someone with a contact, their car is recognized and admitted with no charge.

In addition to the above, ANPR camera-based parking systems can deal with drivers who have made reservations in advance. Not only can they make said reservation from anywhere in the world, but when they arrive, they’re recognized and admitted to the facility without delay.

Smart parking systems using ANPR cameras have become the norm in larger garages and even parking lots since the first decade of the 21st century. It seems likely that ANPR technology will continue to play an important role in smart parking systems as they continue to evolve. And Adaptive Recognition, a major player in the ANPR market – both in terms of software and hardware development and production – will always have an appropriate solution for any project involving the creation of an intelligent parking environment.


The evolution of smart parking systems, like many societal developments, has been punctuated by practical and not-so-effective arrangements. Inventions may come and go, but ANPR-based systems appear to be a good answer to parking challenges for some time to come.

Adaptive Recognition has led the plate-recognition industry since 1991 and offers some of the most capable and flexible tools available to address parking and other needs. Their website provides much more information and your opportunity to contact their experts about how this technology can address your unique challenge.