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BMW to Demonstrate Car That Can Find a Spot and Park Itself in a Garage

BMW set to unveil its autonomous parking feature at CES 2015

2 min read
BMW to Demonstrate Car That Can Find a Spot and Park Itself in a Garage
Photo: BMW

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.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

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A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images
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EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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