Tired of picking your way past bicycles and crusty garbage cans to get aboard your car? Let the 2016 BMW 7-Series negotiate the garage, while you and the neighbors look on in wonder.
Like its semi-autonomous competitor, the Mercedes S-class, BMW’s new flagship luxury sedan can steer, brake, and accelerate on its own for short highway stretches. But the BMW one-ups the Benz as the world’s first production car that can park itself from a distance. That is, with no human inside.
BMW Remote Parking works in conjunction with a modern hunk of a key fob with a 2.2-inch, Gorilla-glass touchscreen. Owners pull up to their garage or a parking slot, roughly align the BMW’s nose with the space, shut off the engine, and hop on out.
Pressing a key button and swiping the screen activates the system: The car starts the engine, shifts the transmission into drive, releases the electric parking brake, and applies hydraulic brakes while ensuring that the vehicle remains safe and stationary. It’s akin to a driver’s holding down the brake pedal before initiating a move.
Next, press a “forward” arrow button on the fob, and the car crawls into the space. Drivers can release the button when the car is properly positioned, but the BMW will also stop itself before striking any obstacle, from a misplaced lawnmower to the family dog. Come the morning commute, a second button reverses the process, easing the car backward out of the space without the driver having to hop aboard.
Hector Arellano-Belloc, BMW technology spokesman, said the system is tailor-made for Europe and other markets where small garages and constricted spaces can make it a challenge to get in and then to get out.
“You can avoid scraping your doors in tight spots and use garage space more efficiently,” Arellano-Belloc says, since an owner doesn’t need to leave a wide berth to open the doors. “Technically, the system is pretty intricate, but it’s easy and intuitive for the owner.”
Four cameras aided by a dozen ultrasonic sensors create a 360-degree view around the car. A control unit allows communication (on both FlexRay and Controller Area Network buses) among the electric steering, engine, brakes, transmission, and stability control.
For safety’s sake, owners do have to babysit the car by standing off to the side or a few meters in back while the BMW does its thing. The system shuts down if someone opens a car door while it’s moving. And though the BMW can automatically adjust its steering angle by up to three degrees for proper alignment, for now it can only do forward-and-backward moves. For automated parallel parking, the driver must still sit inside and work the brakes while the car controls the steering and throttle.
The Bimmer’s other bummer is that U.S. regulators are taking their usual wait-and-see approach: Remote Parking is already on sale as a 7-Series option in Europe, but has not been approved for American showrooms.
“We’re pushing to get the proper authorization so we can utilize it here,” Arellano-Belloc says.
Lawrence Ulrich is an award-winning auto writer and former chief auto critic at The New York Times and The Detroit Free Press.