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For many holidaymakers, the prelude to a trip overseas is a frantic scramble for an airport parking space followed by a desperate dash to departures under a mountain of suitcases.

Now Gatwick airport is introducing a fleet of valet-parking robots to ease the stress of getting away — and squeeze one third more vehicles into the same size car park.

Under a trial which begins in August, travellers will leave their car in a dedicated drop-off zone and summon a droid, booked by app, on a touch-screen. As the customers are shuttled to the terminal, the battery-powered robot rolls up, slides a forklift-style ramp under the chassis, and uses military-grade GPS to ferry it to a secure bay — all without needing the keys.


The autonomous droids — codenamed Stan and likened to a robot in Pixar’s 2008 movie Wall-E — scan each vehicle’s size and shape to safely steer them to their destination. And because there is no need for the driver’s door to open, they can be parked more tightly together. Each booking is linked to the passenger’s flight number to ensure their car is ready to collect from the same location upon their return.

The three-month pilot scheme, revealed in a planning application to Crawley council, is proposed to begin at the height of the summer getaway using technology developed by French firm Stanley Robotics.

Travellers will leave their car in a dedicated drop-off zone and summon a droid, booked by app, to park their car (PR handout)

Similar systems are being trialled at airports in Paris, Lyon and Düsseldorf,  but this would be the first time it has been used in the UK. Stéphane Evanno, Stanley Robotics’ co-founder, said: “We call it a valet parking robot because people just need to drop off their car at the entrance of the car park and then they can basically leave and catch a flight, but it’s doing more than just valet parking.”

He said that passenger feedback was “overwhelmingly good” during a five-month trial at Charles de Gaulle last year, where the system operated so seamlessly that some customers were not even aware a robot had been involved. “They did not understand that their car would not stay in that wide space where they left it … they were just wondering why the car was in another position when they returned,” he told industry website Airport Technology. 

Gatwick’s trial will take place in part of the South Terminal’s long-stay car park, where lamp posts and 170 spaces will be removed to make way for 270 spots, and a robot-friendly surface laid.

AN airport parking scammer who made £1.4 million leaving travellers cars in muddy fields has been jailed for 14 months.

Asad Malik, 38, swindled holidaymakers and business travellers using Gatwick with faked customer reviews and photographs of a car park hundreds of miles away.

 Cars covered in mud were found during raids on Malik's business

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Cars covered in mud were found during raids on Malik’s businessCredit: EDDIE MITCHELL
 Malik blamed the misleading website on developers in Pakistan

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Malik blamed the misleading website on developers in PakistanCredit: EDDIE MITCHELL

Instead of parking their vehicles in secure car parks, they were packed into fields, street corners and even outside a mosque.

A jury at Brighton Crown Court found him guilty of three counts of defrauding or misleading customers, in breach of consumer protection laws.

Malik, from Crawley, used fake reviews in mangled English on two websites in a bid to fool people into using London Parking Gatwick and another service called Easy Meet and Greet Gatwick.

He used a photograph of a hospital 400 miles away to trick travellers into believing their cars were safe when in reality they were dumped in muddy fields with the keys stuck to the windscreen.

One owner found their car had been driven 185 miles while they were away.

Other drivers found they had unpaid parking tickets after returning home.

Trading Standards found hundreds of cars at several locations parked in muddy fields and even in bushes.

Some cars were left unlocked with windows open and some keys were left in open boxes.

Cars came back damaged and others were not returned at all, the jury were told.

The websites claimed the cars would be parked in secure compounds with CCTV by professional chauffeurs.

When Trading Standards Officers went to the sites, they found no gates, fencing or CCTV.

FAKE REVIEWS

Prosecutor Richard Heller said: “In June 2016, Sylvia Goodman said her car was returned with a bent key, the language on the dashboard display was changed to one she didn’t recognise, there was hardly any fuel left, it was dirty, the time had been changed and there was litter in the car including a Co-Op receipt for mini garlic naans.”

The receipt showed the bread was purchased four hours after she handed the car over.

Ross Newman said his BMW GT had a tow bar style dent in the front bumper after booking meet and greet parking with London Parking Gatwick, said Mr Heller.

His car had travelled 24 miles after being told the parking location was only 3.8 miles from Gatwick Airport.

In his defence Mr Malik was asked why he claimed sites used by the airport long stay parking services belonged to his firms.

“Owned means we were the only ones using it. Like going on holiday in a hotel,” he told the court.

“Just because you are staying there doesn’t mean you are owning the hotel.”

The Pakistani businessman had worked for BT and as a taxi driver in Crawley after completing a masters in Satellite Communications and Space Studies at the University of Sussex in Brighton.

Originally from Karachi, Mr Malik said English was not his first language and he outsource the design of his site to a form in Pakistan.

Passing sentence Judge Paul Tain said Malik’s actions would have an impact on other car park companies providing a legitimate service.

The judge said the company handled the complaint “was almost as if it was a joke”.

“One example was a customer complaining about cigarette ash in the car, and were told it must have blown in through the window of another car,” said the judge.

 Owners vehicles were left in muddy fields and some found they had been used while they were away

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Owners vehicles were left in muddy fields and some found they had been used while they were awayCredit: EDDIE MITCHELL


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THE BOSS of a Gatwick Airport valet parking firm that dumped vehicles in nearby fields has been handed a 14-month prison sentence.

Asad Malik was found guilty of deceiving clients by lying to them about where his London Gatwick Parking company was storing their cars.

Instead of the “secure compound” that was advertised on the firm’s website, Malik’s firm instead dropped the vehicles in fields near Crawley,West Sussex, roughly five miles away from Gatwick Airport.

Malik’s company was also found to have been extremely poor custodians of its clients’ cars. Trading Standards officers noted in an investigation that some cars were sporting damage and parking tickets, and others were unlocked with their keys on the windscreen.

The investigation was prompted by a tip-off in July 2016 that more than 1,000 cars were being parked in a field on Bonnetts Lane.

Richard Sargeant, West Sussex Tradings Standards’ team manager, said: “Malik and his company deceived thousands of customers between 2014 and 2016, causing damage to their cars and making false claims on its website.

“This was a complex investigation for our team and I am very pleased with the outcome.”

Trading Standards urges motorists who prefer to use ‘meet and greet’ parking services at Gatwick Airport should only use a company that has been vetted and approved.