KARIYA, Japan — The natural corollary to a self-driving car is that it ought to be self-parking, too.
And if you've ever tried to thread a car into one of cramped Japan's ultranarrow parking slots, you'll know that doing so is hard enough for a human, let alone a computer.
Now Aisin Seiki Co., the massive Toyota Group supplier of transmissions and powertrain components, is trying to nail that parking challenge as its contribution to an autonomous driving future. The supplier is developing two advanced self-parking systems it hopes to start selling in the 2020s. The first is a remote-control parking function that lets the driver park the car with no one behind the wheel. The other is a "valet parking" system that will allow the car to patrol a parking lot by itself until it finds an empty spot, then park itself automatically.
It is admittedly a niche-market move for a big supplier that is eager to refashion itself from an old-school metal-bender into a forward-looking software player. That is the same worrisome mission that confronts auto parts suppliers of all types all over the world. Automakers and their suppliers are rushing to develop ambitious autonomous driving technologies for highways and city streets. But Aisin sees a more immediate opportunity by focusing on the lowly parking lot.
"Recently, we've seen a big focus on autonomous driving, and as a company, we don't want to be left behind in this," said Hiroshi Ishiguro, manager of parking assist development at Aisin.