'Going Underground' Automated Garage

Wireless communications and leading edge software technologies come together to provide an innovative mobile control solution for the ultimate boys toys, an underground garage.

'Going Underground' Automated Garage

The Project

Although there has been a certain levelling out of wealth across the country over recent years, I think most people would agree that extreme wealth is generally found within the m25. In fact almost half of the UK's millionaires live in London.

According to CEBR (Centre for Economics & Business Research), 175,000 or 41% of the UK's millionaires are based in the capital, making up 5.5% of all households nationwide.

A further 90,000 millionaires live in the rest of the south east. One in every 20 households in london is now worth £1 million or more, CEBR researchers said.

While the idea of spending £80,000 on just a garage seems like madness to you and I, the economics associated with buying secure parking space in London can mean this is usually a very prudent investment.

Now these are no ordinary garages, in fact, the word 'garage' under-sells what is a very imaginative concept. It sounds like something from Thunderbirds, a garage that for the most part is underground and only emerges at the surface when you wish to store or remove your car. But that's exactly what it is, from a standard unit that is designed to store one car internally and one on the top, to double high or double wide units that have the capacity to store 4 cars.

These garages are the inspiration of Intergarage, a company founded in Birmingham but now operating from numerous locations across the length of the UK. Customers for the Intergarage range from wealthy Russian business men and oil tycoons through to the 'working class lad done good', however, all have one thing in common, a taste for quality and a thirst for fast and expensive cars.

With this in mind, Vaalto were commissioned to design a control system for the garage that was not only practical and functional but with the flair to impress the owner's friends during a dinner party.

The control of the garage is relatively straight forward; it has two hydraulic cylinders that are controlled to a position using a series of pumps and valves. Sensors around the garage give feedback as to the position of the cylinders and ensure the garage space is clear during movements. In this sense it's a very traditional control system, the type you would find in any automated industrial process, selecting a suitable controller shouldn't be a problem.

But what to use as the interface, a traditional factory HMI (Human Machine Interface) while capable would need to be installed in the house somewhere which depending on location would not have given great visibility of the garage and to be perfectly honest wouldn't have looked very attractive. As hard as Siemens and Allen Bradley might try with the ergonomic designs, you wouldn't want an OP27 or PV550 hanging on your hall wall.

The idea of using a PDA or a Smart Phone as the interface was proposed; from a design point of view it met all the criteria and its portability would mean the client could use it within the car while parking. Getting the PDA to communicate to the controller was now going to be the problem, a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) was required that had tools or libraries available that allowed a Windows Mobile programme to access its memory. This was a one off requirement, not something that we expected the largest PLC vendors to support, so using Siemens, Allen Bradley, Mitsubishi etc were immediately ruled out. Beckhoff are an industrial controls supplier with a difference, they have a good market penetration with a number of products, ranging from distributed I/O, PLC's through to drives, axis controls and building management solutions. More importantly for this project is that they are very dynamic and progressive and produce tools that developer's can use to build innovative applications.

Their range of bus controllers (BC) provide PLC level control, a wide range input and outputs and vitally a suite of interface libraries that allow managed Windows and Windows Mobile applications to communicate directly with them through standard interface protocols making a wireless connection the the BC possible.

Smooth Operator

The PDA is docked in the owner's car and as they approach the garage and come into range of the wireless router it connects directly to the BC. The interface on the PDA can then be used to raise and lower the garage, monitor parking position and for diagnostic purposes monitor temperature and humidity within the garage.

The software is security enabled; only allowing operators and engineer's access to protected features when they have been authenticated, just in case the PDA should fall into the wrong hands. The Intergarage is a boy's toy with real value and functionality.

With the help of Vaalto software and systems intergarage are changing the face of the property and parking within London and across the rest of the UK.