There’s something almost eerie about them: cars that park themselves and then return to their owners as if they were sentient. Automated Valet Parking (AVP) is a pilot project that offers a taste of what’s to come in the world of autonomous driving.
How does automated parking work for me as a customer?
It’s simple, really. You just send a command from your smartphone and your car will drive from its parking spot to you, in the pickup area of the parking lot. Then you can get in and drive off – and if you want to park the car again, just drive it to the drop-off area, get out and send another command. The car will drive to the parking space on its own. The time you might have taken looking for a spot can then be better used elsewhere – and you’ll spare yourself the frustration.
How does the car navigate the parking lot?
Our project partner Bosch has developed sensors specially for this purpose, and these communicate with a central computer in the parking lot. The computer, in turn, sends commands to the vehicle’s interface, and the sensors steer the car. They are also able to detect objects and obstructions – such as a child who has wandered away from her parents – and bring the car to a halt.
How many sensors have you installed in this parking lot?
Sensors are mounted onto hip-level posts every six metres to ensure maximum safety. The laser scanner is located about a hand’s width above the ground, so it can detect things like a child who has taken a tumble.
How exactly do the sensors steer the car?
We can pinpoint the position of the car within a few centimetres, and are therefore able to park two cars at a distance of just 10 centimetres from one another. We’ve harnessed previously unheard-of efficiency to make use of valuable space in the car park: We can park up to 20 percent more cars than would be possible with conventional parking.
There are already plenty of sensors in Mercedes-Benz cars. Why not just use those?
We could have gone that way, but we decided to go with the external solution. And that enables even relatively unsophisticated cars to drive autonomously. One of our ideas is to allow users to subscribe and unsubscribe to AVP as a service.
When will customers be able to use it?
We’re about to kick off the first pilot project in Stuttgart.
What are you hoping to find out with this project?
The project will help us learn a lot. Let’s say you’ve already sent your car off to go find a parking spot, and then you realize you’ve left your umbrella in the trunk. What’s the best way to solve a little problem like that?
So you’ll use this information to improve the system?
Exactly. Especially because both automated cars and conventional cars use the parking lot – in fact, 99 percent of all cars will be parked by their drivers, the conventional way. Our two automated test vehicles will navigate the parking lot among these cars. After we’ve gathered enough experience, we can try out new things, like using fewer sensors while maintaining the same level of safety.
Do you feel like a pioneer in the world of autonomous driving?
We’re all a bit proud, yes. But I think we’ve earned the right to be.