The EU wants our cars to park themselves
What would we do without the European Union? Not only has our politico-economic union overseen the removal of national borders and thus paved the way for uninterrupted long-distance continental motoring, the European Commission reports that the EU is working hard so that we “never waste another minute” looking for a parking space.
In a press release outlining this EU-developed driverless car parking system, the European Commission describes a salve-like scenario to soothe the bruised nerves of many a motorist: “There are only a few minutes before your flight check-in closes, or before your train departs, but you now have to spend precious time hunting for a free space at the airport or station car park. Imagine leaving your vehicle at the main entrance and letting the car do the rest on its own.”
While sounding too good to be true, the European Commission assures that researchers from Germany, Italy, the UK and Switzerland really are working on such a technology, and successful tests took place at Stuttgart airport earlier this year. And you will be pleased to know that you’re helping to make this happen – €5.6 million of EU funding is being invested in the system.
But there is a catch – your petrol or diesel car won’t be parking itself any time soon. The self-parking system is being developed by the V-Charge consortium, whose development work focuses exclusively on solutions for electric vehicle users. The consortium sees the automated parking technology coming into its own in what it calls ‘transport hubs’, places where people will leave their electric cars in order to continue their journey on public transport. “The idea is that we can actually use technology to give people a better mix of public and private transport,” explains Dr Paul Furgale, scientific project manager for V-CHARGE and deputy director of the autonomous systems lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
Another reason to love your phone
Drivers will be able to leave their car in front of the car park and use a smartphone app to trigger the parking process. The vehicle will connect with the car park’s server and drive itself to a designated space. While in the garage, the car can also be programmed to go to a charging station. Upon returning, the driver uses the same app to summon the car – fully charged and ready to go. Since GPS satellite signals don’t always work inside garages, the project team members have developed a camera-based system based on their expertise in robotics and environment sensing.
Dr Furgale believes the same technology could be used to develop autonomous parking systems for electric cars on city streets. “That will be more of a challenge,” he says. “But once you have the maps in place, the rest of the technology will come together.”
Cost-effective integration into production
In April, the team presented the latest version of the system at Stuttgart airport. The European Commission says that following this successful demonstration the researchers are now fine-tuning the technology to tackle more precise manoeuvres. The project is set to conclude in 2015, and its results available to be progressively commercialised in the coming years. The functions developed are expected to be cost-effective enough to be integrated into production of electric vehicles. Project engineers are working with equipment that is already currently available, such as ultrasonic sensors and stereo cameras that are used in parking assistance and emergency braking systems.
“We need to think ahead and find smarter ways to move, to save time, money and our environment,” comments European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes. “Who wouldn’t want to save time parking their car? We need research on new technologies – and how to combine them – to get practical solutions. The V-CHARGE system goes in the right direction and I look forward to using it.”