With Regulator’s Nod, Bosch Plans Spread of Driverless Valet Parking

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Mass fleets of self-driving cars have yet to arrive on our streets, but people are already worrying about where they’re going to park. If they all just circle around city blocks, competing to offer on-demand rides, they could slow traffic to a crawl, industry observers say.

Autonomous robotaxi services like Alphabet unit Waymo’s are still at a fledgling stage, but German industrial conglomerate Bosch is getting a head start on the parking problem. Bosch announced early Tuesday it received regulatory approval in Germany for a system that enables driverless vehicles to navigate the ramps and pillars of parking garages themselves, and glide into their pre-assigned spots alone.

The parking garages of the future may be designed specifically for self-driving vehicles, because more cars could be packed in if they don’t need enough space for their drivers and passengers to open the doors and climb out, reported IEEE Spectrum, a publication of the technical professional organization IEEE, originally called the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

But Bosch designed its automated valet parking technology for the garages of today and the near future, testing it in a partnership with Daimler. Bosch created an infrastructure package comprised of sensors and computers that are installed in the garage to guide smart vehicles to their parking spots without hitting anything. Daimler pitched in with the onboard self-driving technology for the cars from its Mercedes-Benz business unit.

In a pilot project begun in 2017 at the Mercedes-Benz Museum parking garage in Stuttgart, the partners tried out the system under challenging conditions and under the eyes of local regulators who had yet to formulate an official approval process, the company says. Autonomous vehicles mixed in with conventional cars that had humans at the wheel. The Bosch technology triggered the driverless cars to stop whenever a pedestrian or post loomed too close. In 2018, museum visitors were allowed to try the parking service, though with a trained safety staffer to shepherd them through the experience. Now, regulators are allowing the tech companies to let driverless cars move through the garage without human supervision, Bosch says.

As far as Bosch can tell, it’s the first regulatory approval in any country for a fully automated, driverless SAE Level 4 parking system in routine daily use without human monitoring, company spokesperson Tim Wieland says. SAE refers to the five standard levels of driving automation set by SAE International, an automotive industry trade group founded in 1905 as the Society of Automobile Engineers.

The company sees the approval in Germany as a first step toward global commercialization. Wieland says Bosch isn’t yet disclosing how it would make money from its garage infrastructure.

Bosch is now exploring possibilities to market its valet parking system to other garages, and to make it work with cars from various manufacturers, Wieland says. The German company designed its garage infrastructure to carry a lot of the heavy lifting of autonomous navigation so that cars don’t need to rely on their own sensors to interpret the garage environment. Connected cars can work with the Bosch technology even if they’re not highly automated vehicles, Wieland says. All they need is equipment that could be commonly built into new cars fairly soon—a communications unit, automatic transmission, electric power steering, an electronic stability program (ESP,) a remote engine start capability, and a “safe stop” function, he says. That low bar for vehicle integration should help Bosch develop a market for its automated parking garage technology, Wieland says.

Bosch has been involved in automotive technology since the late 1800’s, when the company founded by Robert Bosch created improved ignition devices for vehicle engines. Mobility Solutions is now the largest business sector within the global Bosch Group, a private firm that says it recorded $92.7 billion in sales in 2018. The company’s activities range from factory automation and industrial energy systems to smart home products and software.

In 1906, the company first established a presence in North America, where it now has a headquarters in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Bosch Connected Services and Chassis Systems Controls teams from North America contributed to the automated valet project, Wieland says.

The pilot project for the automated garage navigation system has not only provided a learning laboratory for Bosch, but has also been a means for visitors to the Mercedes-Benz Museum to try it out and get sold on the pleasures of automated driving, Wieland says.

Drivers or riders arriving at the parking garage get out of the car, call for valet service with a smartphone app, and go off to do something else while the car winds its way up the ramps to its assigned space.

“While some might say ‘I love driving,’ you would be challenged to find someone who says, ‘I love parking,’ ” Wieland says.

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