Visitors to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart will find some of the most iconic vehicles produced across more than a century of automotive history. Soon, they may also get a glimpse of the industry’s future.
Daimler and Bosch are using the museum’s parking garage to launch an automated valet feature that can be accessed via a smartphone app and requires no human safety driver. Vehicle occupants can be dropped off near the entrance to the museum, and then the car will park itself in a designated spot in the garage.
The companies have been testing the system for the past year in the garage. Recently, they reached a milestone: They say the feature is the first fully driverless parking function to receive regulatory approval in Germany.
Enabling the parking valet at future locations will require further green lights from regulators. But officials from Daimler and Bosch view the approval at the museum as the first step to self-driving technology someday changing the way travelers access public spaces.
“You can imagine an airport,” says Rolf Nicodemus, head of connected parking at Bosch. “The best place to park currently is in a parking garage. Because there’s a need to be near the terminal, this automated vehicle parking can dramatically change things. You can then use parking areas that are not so attractive, and it changes the whole DNA of the parking situation.”
Others also envision that use case. Steer, a Maryland technology startup, has found a niche developing Level 4 self-driving systems that operate in private parking lots, such as airports. The company is piloting its system at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in Maryland.
Steer is under contract to license its systems to two automakers and a global supplier for production vehicles in 2021. The company received a testing permit for its driverless technology for testing in all parking lots owned by the Maryland Department of Transportation.
At least for now, the Bosch-Daimler project is small in scope. Two cars equipped with the parking system are available to be hired, Bosch says, from a local sales-and-service outlet so that customers can experience the technology at the museum.
There’s no timetable for more widespread pilot projects or equipping future Daimler models with the robo-valet. Bosch says similar systems that may involve partnerships with other automakers could possibly be “very near production launch.”
Fully automated vehicles that can travel anywhere at any time remain a long way off, but niche applications of Level 4 automated systems, such as self-parking features, are perhaps the first autonomous features that everyday consumers will be able to access in new vehicles.
Tesla has rolled out a similar parking feature called Summon that’s part of an enhanced Autopilot package that’s already been enabled in the U.S. Daimler, no doubt, is developing its own parking valet to help compete with Tesla in the luxury-vehicle market.
One notable piece of Tuesday’s announcement from Daimler and Bosch is that the parking valet does not work solely via on-board computers and sensors. Parking-garage infrastructure is a required part of the equation. In this project, Bosch designed the parking-garage infrastructure while Daimler developed the in-vehicle technology.
In the garage, Bosch installed lidar units that supply object-detection information to the vehicle. In future iterations, the company says cameras will be used.
“Having an infrastructure-based solution was a key to gaining approval from the authorities,” Nicodemus said.
Data is sent via a Wi-Fi connection. Should that connection be broken or lost, both Bosch and Daimler say cars will stop immediately.