A complex, groundbreaking automated car elevator system, situated in the center of the $560-million, 60-story Porsche Design Tower project in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., is raising the bar on "sky garage" technology, and taking its builders on a memorable journey as contractors and engineers make accommodations for the massive system. By combining high-speed- and freight-elevator concepts as part of what is believed to be the first such system for carrying cars and human passengers, the highly programmed, patented design may one day influence the development of similar projects.

For now, though, the system—which enables residents to park their cars in their attached garages—is presenting a towering engineering and construction challenge. "These are the most complicated elevator systems I've ever seen," says Rob Bailey, president of Chicago-based Mid-American Elevator, and the man charged with delivering the first-of-its-kind system. Bailey, a 35-year industry veteran, also provided elevators for NASA's massive Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.

"In a lot of ways, we're reinventing elevator technology. We're doing things that have never been done," he says.

The 'Dezervator'

Credit for the concept, all parties agree, goes to Gil Dezer, the president of Dezer Development who initiated the Porsche-branded project. While working with Porsche Design Group, Dezer, an avowed Porsche enthusiast, saw a mechanical parking system in Germany and decided he wanted to include something similar in his Sunny Isles project.

"We were always pushing the cool factor," Dezer says. Although it helped him differentiate his condominium for marketing purposes, it's not just a gimmick, he notes.

"There's a real mathematical equation" behind it, he says. "I'm taking [parking)] space that I typically give away for free and selling it because it's adjacent to the unit" for the same cost per square foot.

In addition to being a moneymaker, though, Dezer asserts that the scheme improves upon high-rise luxury residential design. It incorporates the single-family-home garage concept by providing greater security, privacy and ease of use for residents.

Dezer has patented the "Dezervator" system and plans to use it on future projects. Significantly complicating its design was Dezer's insistence that residents be able to ride up with their cars—at a rate of 800 ft per minute—a scenario that raised numerous safety concerns. (A similar sky-garage system in Singapore doesn't permit people to ride along with the cars.)

Here's how it works: Cars are registered and equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, which inform the system where to deliver the car. Residents drive onto a turntable that spins to align with one of two "entry-exit lanes." Once positioned, an 8,000-lb-capacity "shuttle"—supplied by Palis of Germany, a mechanical parking equipment manufacturer—deploys underneath the vehicle, lifting it up by about 2 in. and carries it into the elevator cabin. Then the elevator spins to align the car with its parking space. Along the way, a range of sensors and scanners closely monitor the operation.