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Enabling driverless cars to navigate parking garages on their own

Simon Laubenberger demonstrates automated valet parking: Standing in the P6 parking garage, he watches a driverless Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan pull into a parking space automatically.

Bosch technology is making a dream come true. Automated valet parking enables vehicles to navigate garages in search of a parking spot and pull into a space all on their own. Here, the project’s head Simon Laubenberger explains the benefits of autonomous parking.

Parking is high on nobody’s list of favorite activities. But what if the job could be handed off to someone (or something) else? Bosch, Mercedes-Benz, and parking garage operator APCOA have teamed up to make precisely this dream come true. This consortium of three is pursuing a pilot project in Germany to test automated valet parking in the Stuttgart airport’s P6 parking garage. Automated valet parking is a Bosch technology designed to enable vehicles to maneuver to and park in available spaces autonomously.

“Together, we’re determined to take the hassle out of parking,” says Simon Laubenberger, who heads up this collaborative project at Bosch. He and his team are using the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class as a test vehicle. It’s the first production car to have the technology for future infrastructure-based automated valet parking on board as a standard feature. Simon draws on five examples to explain how driverless parking works and makes drivers’ lives easier.

1. No more circling the deck

People arriving at the airport are often running late. At times like these, looking for a parking space is especially nerve-racking. Automated valet parking spares drivers that aggravation. “Users can reserve a parking space via an app and register their license plate number and preferred payment option,” Simon explains. Drivers no longer need a ticket to enter the parking garage. A camera scans the license plate and raises the barrier gate automatically when the user approaches the entrance. The user pulls into the garage, gets out at the drop-off point, and activates the app to send the driverless car on a fully automated search for a parking space. This Level-4 autonomy is the second highest driving automation ranking as defined by SAE International, formerly known as the Society of Automotive Engineers. “Despite this level of sophistication, vehicles need nothing fancier than standard technology to use automated valet parking,” Simon says. The S-Class park assist system features a special add-on module with a Wi-Fi interface. It enables the car to communicate with and receive driving commands from the parking garage’s automated valet parking server. The rest of the automated valet parking technology is in the building.

Simon Laubenberger is standing in the drop-off zone of the automated valet parking garage P6 at Stuttgart airport, looking at the camera over the roof of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Bosch’s Simon Laubenberger is working on the automated valet parking pilot project at Stuttgart airport to make parking an exercise in convenience.

180 smart cameras

are mounted on the ceiling in Stuttgart airport’s P6 pilot parking garage and guide the S-Class to its parking space.

2. No scratches

One of 180 Bosch cameras installed in the P6 parking garage can be seen on the ceiling while the Mercedes-Benz S-Class drives autonomously to a parking space below it.
This pilot project is the first to use cameras rather than LiDAR sensors. Cameras installed in garages are less obtrusive, do not encroach on the lane, and are cheaper.

It’s not at all unusual for a manuevering car to graze a parked vehicle. The intelligent automated parking infrastructure relegates such scratches and dents to the dustbin of history. The pilot parking garage has some 180 Bosch ceiling-mounted stereo cameras with integrated algorithms to detect objects and measure distances. They send their images and metadata to a server in a separate room in the building. “Stored on the server is a digital map, a simplified blueprint of the building. It breaks the parking garage down into tiny gird squares no larger than a few centimeters. The server aligns data from the cameras with individual grids, detects the positions of people, objects, and the S-Class using parameters such as size and direction of movement, and identifies available parking spaces,” Simon explains.

A safe parking system

Two independent servers calculate driving commands for the vehicle several times a second. The go-ahead is given only when both arrive at the same result.

The server uses a predefined path stored on the digital map to guide the S-Class through the parking structure. “A path consists of many individual segments, each of which contains specifications such as driving speed and curve radius,” Simon says. The server calculates a driving command for each segment and sends it out to guide the vehicle segment by segment into the parking space. This piecemeal progress is imperceptible as such.

To the observer’s eye, the S-Class looks to be maneuvering to its destination in one fluid motion. Bosch is using cameras instead of LiDAR sensors in the pilot parking garage — a first for this sort of project. “They have the advantages of being cheaper, not constricting the lane, and integrating more inconspicuously into the infrastructure,” Simon explains. Cameras can also be retrofitted to turn older buildings into high-tech parking garages.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class autonomously navigates a tight corner in parking garage P6. Bosch cameras can be seen on the ceiling of the park deck.
Even tight spaces are not a problem, as the cameras on the ceiling guide the vehicle safely through the parking garage. They detect available spaces, spot obstacles in traffic lanes, and communicate with the S-Class via a server. (Source: Mercedes-Benz)

3. Greater safety for pedestrians

Accidents can happen even in parking lots when a pedestrian inadvertently crosses a car’s path. Automated valet parking steers clear of such dangers. The cameras detect even small obstacles in traffic lanes. They send this information to the server, which relays it to vehicles in that section in the blink of an eye. The floor’s speckled pattern helps cameras detect objects. The S-Class first slows down when an obstacle is several meters away, and then stops when the gap closes to four meters. It brakes instantly if a pedestrian, rolling suitcase, or other obstacle comes any closer than that. “Driving commands are calculated several times per second in parallel on the main server and on a second server. But the command is only actually sent to the S-Class if both computers give the go-ahead.

Failing that, the vehicle stops immediately,” Simon says. This autonomous driving system is faster than the average driver. It doesn’t experience that moment of surprise or shock when the human brain has to process a hazard before reacting. The automated valet parking system also has multiple safeguards. Various monitoring programs constantly check all components for function and are in turn supervised by safety software. With these rigorous safety precautions, automated valet parking is suitable for situations where humans are in the mix. This means that cars driven by humans and autonomous vehicles do not impede each other in the parking garage and pedestrians are protected.

More parking spaces

Automated valet parking can squeeze up to 20 percent more vehicles into the space available in today’s facilities, in part because driverless cars can park closer together.

4. Never to be boxed in again

Two Mercedes-Benz S-Class cars parked very close together in automated valet parking spaces.
This automated valet is a space-saving parking solution: with no need to leave room for people to get in and out, self-parking vehicles can park much closer together.

Automated valet parking spares drivers the hassle of having to squeeze through a narrow gap in the door when the vehicle in the neighboring space is too close for comfort. Instead, automated valet parking users simply summon their vehicle to the pickup point via an app and get in there. Since parking is done fully autonomously, cars don’t need much clearance in automated parking spaces. “Parking-lot capacity will likely increase by up to 20 percent as automated valet parking gains traction,” Simon remarks. This driverless parking system could some day even handle electric vehicles’ charging needs. Bosch is working on a smart parking service to send driverless e-vehicles to charging points. The same automated parking system will guide the vehicle to a charging point where a robot arm plugs in the cable. The autonomous car will head back to its original parking spot once its battery is recharged.

5. No more lines

Drivers no longer have to wait in line at a machine to pay manually because automated valet parking dispenses with parking meters and pay stations. A camera registers the vehicle’s license plate when it exits the parking area. The system matches the number to the reservation and collects the parking fee via the app automatically at the end of the parking period. This is how automated valet parking automates the entire process in the parking garage, saving drivers a lot of stress and hassle.

Bosch expects the authorities to approve the automated valet parking system in the P6 parking garage for mass production by fall of 2021. The company is already talking to automotive manufacturers and parking garage operators in other countries. With good reason, for one thing is universally true: nobody likes parking.

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