We’ve all been there: you’re in a rush to find a spot in a parking lot—say, to catch a movie that is about to start—and you discover that not only are there no open spots nearby, but there is a crush of cars with drivers all waiting to snatch any opening that appears. Now BMW is promising to put an end to this kind of parking lot frustration with a car that finds a spot and parks itself autonomously. You can run to the movie theater and the car will even lock itself.
At the annual Consumer Electronics Show coming up in a few weeks, the company will show off cars featuring the latest bit of high-tech wizardry that will eventually lead to a fully autonomous vehicle. The German luxury marque’s Remote Valet Parking Assistant, which will appear in an i3 electric vehicle, will let the car to drive itself into a parking garage and find a spot without any human intervention. The driver, having exited the vehicle, can initiate the process via an app on a smart watch and then go about his or her business.
The parking assistant relies on sensors including four laser scanners to keep track of where it is and to avoid bumping into things. (The obstacle detection remains active even when a human is in control; it applies the brakes if the car senses that a collision is imminent and the driver fails to stop it.)
Once it finds a spot, the vehicle is trained to lock itself and play dead. At a preprogrammed meeting time, or upon the driver’s command (again via the app or watch), it will play fetch, driving itself to pick up the human driver at the spot at the entrance of the garage where it dropped him or her off.
As with Google’s self-driving vehicles, the specially-equipped i3 is lost without a detailed map of the garage. That means that this robo-valet capability might work only in selected parking lots.
IEEE Spectrum will be at CES and we’ll try to bring you video of the BMW demo and more details on how it all works.
Willie Jones is an associate editor at IEEE Spectrum. In addition to editing and planning daily coverage, he manages several of Spectrum's newsletters and contributes regularly to the monthly Big Picture section that appears in the print edition.