Self-parking technology — where a car heads off in search of a parking space after you’ve got to your destination and stepped out the vehicle — has always been a big selling point of autonomous driving technology. But despite the best attempts of software giant Google and automakers around the world, self-driving cars haven’t hit the road just yet.
For now then, the dream of robotic self-parking cars is just that — a dream — unless you happen to visit Dusseldorf airport in Germany, where a new pilot project offers to automatically park your car for you while you make your way to check in.
Enter RAY, a self-driving robotic fork-lift capable of lifting any car off the ground and quietly whisking it away to a parking spot.
As its manufacturer Serva Transport Systems (via Jalopnik) explains, the robotic parking valet system has some major advantages to both a human valet and other robotic track-based systems. Because there’s no human to get in and out of the car, the all-electric RAY can park cars extremely close to one another, maximising parking space.
Additionally, since the system relies on a team of self-driving fork lifts instead of large conveyor belts and multi-story car lifts, it can be utilised in any existing parking garage without requiring the multi-million dollar retrofit program associated with the kind of autonomous parking conveyor-belt systems already popular in Japan.
Finally, since the system can adapt to any size of car, it can park cars more compactly than other systems currently available, freeing up valuable space in busy parking garages for more cars.
Using the autonomous parking system is really simple. Pull into a special drop-off space at the parking garage, and punch your car’s registration details into the computer terminal to check in. Already aware of your flight itinerary, a robotic RAY valet appears, measuring your car’s dimensions accurately with on-board lasers. It then picks your car up and trundles it away to be parked.
While you’re away, the system instructs RAY units to continually shuffle the cars, ensuring that cars whose owners are due to arrive back at the airport are ready when they touch down. Once you’re through customs, simply use a smartphone app to alert the system that you’re ready to pick your car up, and a RAY delivers your car to a pickup area so it’s ready to go when you are.
Admittedly, the system doesn’t have quite the cool cred of a self-parking car, but it does help solve one of those age-old problems of hunting for a parking space when time is tight. It also manages to put an end to the problem of that inconsiderate jerk who has managed to park so close to your car that you can’t get back in it when you return.
At the moment, the RAY system is only available to premium parking customers at Dusseldorf airport, meaning it will cost a fair bit more to use than the standard parking tariffs. But would you be tempted to pay extra to take the hassle out of parking? If we were late for a flight, we might.
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