A lot of practical realities like cost and operational reliability mean that the kind of go-anywhere full self-driving capability people like Elon Musk aim for is unlikely to come to the mainstream anytime in the near future. Even the sort of limited geofenced capabilities being piloted by companies like Waymo and Aptiv will probably remain restricted for years to come. There is however, a very interesting form of level 4 automation being prepared by Bosch and Daimler that could become commonplace in the not so distant future, automatic valet parking.
The Stuttgart regional administrative authority has approved a test program by the supplier and automaker for a fully automated parking system. The system is being installed in the multi-story parking garage at the Mercedes-Benz museum. Drivers will be able to pull up to the garage entrance, get out and have the car park itself. Unlike most of the automated driving systems we see demonstrated, this one actually has most of the heavy lifting being done outside the car.
Most of the sensing is actually being done by sensors actually installed in the garage itself. Bosch is working with both lidar and camera sensors to monitor the garage for available spaces and any movement of pedestrians and other vehicles.
“It was quicker to get the system in the Mercedes-Benz Museum parking garage operational using the lidar system,” explained Bosch spokesman Tim Wieland. “This project is focused on gathering user experience with fully automated driverless vehicles, which is why the faster development timeline was preferred. The camera solution will follow for the commercialization stage.”
All of the perception and path planning software is running on IT infrastructure in the garage. Commands are issued to the cars over a WiFi connection, something that is increasingly becoming standard in new vehicles. The existing actuators used for driver assistance systems like active parking assist handle the motion of the vehicle.
For the test program, Bosch and Mercedes-Benz are using existing E-class sedans that already have the necessary elements to make this work. That includes the automatic transmission controls, the electric power steering, stability control actuators and other elements on cars found on even mainstream cars on the road today. The main change is some additional software. If the vehicle loses its WiFi connection to the garage control system, it is designed to immediately come to a stop.
It’s likely that it will be several more years before this capability is commercialized but Bosch is already working to establish additional test sites. Before then, these systems need to get standardized so that vehicles from multiple manufacturers can support it. However, because of the restricted environment, automated valet parking like this will likely be the first way that many people actually experience highly automated driving.