Nissan has been doing it for years, Tesla is already rolling out cars with the necessary hardware installed at the factory, and German marques Audi and Mercedes-Benz already have test-fleets of cars on the roads of the U.S.
In fact, regardless of the automaker or the market segment, pretty much every major automotive manufacturer is developing and testing some form of self-driving or semi-autonomous technology.
And at next month’s 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, German automaker BMW will demonstrate its latest foray into the world of self-driving cars: a fully-electric BMW i3 with autonomous valet parking capabilities.
This isn’t the first time BMW has demonstrated self-driving technology. Back in 2009, BMW demonstrated some autonomous driving technology at the world-famous Nürburgring race track, and in 2011, it sent a test vehicle along the A9 from Munich towards Nuremberg, Germany, without any driver input.
January’s demonstration however, will focus on making the complex and stressful activity of parking a car a breeze by giving a car the intelligence it needs to park itself, long after its owner has exited the vehicle.
BMW’s new Remote Valet Parking Assistant, fitted into the prototype self-driving BMW i3, uses the same laser-based sensor system we’ve seen in other autonomous cars, with one sensor located on each side of the vehicle to give it a true 360-degree view of the world.
But where the BMW system differs is its lack of reliance on GPS to help the car figure out exactly where it is.
That’s because GPS relies on a line-of-sight between the vehicle and at least three overhead satellites in order to correctly triangulate the car’s position. And since most multi-storey parking garages are made of large quantities of concrete and metal — substances which can block or interfere with GPS location software — BMW’s system has to rely on a different technology in order to function.
Instead, BMW’s system works by keeping a digital plan of each multi-storey parking garage on file, which it then pairs with data from its 360-degree laser sensor system to correctly locate the car.
Capable of identifying and avoiding things like other cars, bollards and pedestrians, BMW says the prototype i3 can drop off its owner at a convenient location — the lift, for example — and head off to find itself a parking space. Once parked, the vehicle can then be summoned to pick up its owner using a smartphone or smartwatch app.
What isn’t clear of course, is if the car is capable of charging itself, but given BMW’s previous demonstrations of wireless charging technology, we wouldn’t rule that feature out either.
Would you trust a self-parking car? Would you worry about it finding a space? Or do you prefer the old ‘hands on’ approach?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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