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If the driver no longer needs to waste time looking for a vacant parking spot, mobility turns into enjoyment: to achieve this, more and more manufacturers are developing systems with which autonomous parking will become the norm. Self-driving cars and the new e-mobility are not only changing the way we move around, they also change the car park and its significance in urban space.

How does autonomous parking work?

Basically, autonomous parking is the consistent further development of sensors, cameras, automation and signals, which already assist drivers in safe and comfortable parking today.

The technology has already reached a point where a vehicle can perform the last moves of the parking process on its own – the driver is only the controlling entity.
However, true autonomy is only achieved if the car really does everything on its own – not only the parking process, but also travelling to the most convenient available parking spot.

Autonomous parking thus no longer only refers to immediate parking in an available parking spot, but to the entire process – from finding the spot, to approaching it from a great distance, to parking in a precisely fitting space. The driver does not need to sit in the car but can start the process externally via app – and be on his or her merry way while the vehicle is still moving.

Self-driving cars find their way inside the car park from the transfer or exit zone to the parking spot and are guided by cameras, sensors and signals in the surrounding area. If the car needs to be made available, this process is also initiated by the same app and basically carried out in reverse.

The MSCP thus retains its original functionality but the surrounding factors change quite substantially with autonomous parking. Of course, digitalisation plays a key role in that payment options or reservation processes for a parking spot move to the app as well. At the same time the quality of the stay in the car park and the alignment of the car parks themselves are shifting, because the time-consuming and stressful search for a parking space as one of the central behavioural patterns within a car park becomes redundant.

This changes not only the space contingent and the distances on the individual levels, it also provides the opportunity to reallocate the space previously reserved for traffic and payment. This results in a car park of the future in which parking from a human perspective plays only second fiddle.

What are the challenges of autonomous parking?

Autonomous parking basically has the same requirements that developers deal with in terms of autonomous driving. On the one hand there is the question how self-driving vehicles interact with each other in traffic so that safety is guaranteed – not only for the driver and the vehicle but also for all other traffic participants.

On the other hand, car park operators must develop control systems that make reservation, payment and parking by app as convenient, safe and intuitive as possible. However, the differentiation from other service providers must be preserved – after all, the car park of the future in terms of autonomous mobility will find itself in a completely new competitive environment.

Here, similar requirements to those faced with car sharing are encountered. The proprietary network concept with its own apps and communities must always be based on a similar system which makes it possible to intuitively use a new provider.

In contrast to sharing services, MSCPs are hardly ever equated with providers of certain service offers. The visibility of the industry sector and its image-building will therefore have to change in connection with autonomous parking and driving.

Automated driving and e-mobility go hand in hand so that in the car park of the future interfaces need to be created for how autonomous cars can hook up to charging stations if necessary. This poses great challenges in terms of connection quality and might be the ultimate push to expedite the development of wireless charging on a grand scale – also by car manufacturers themselves.

Even robot solutions are being discussed and tested. However, the human being as assistant in a tight spot, no longer has anything to do with parking. Ultimately, autonomy can only be achieved if human interaction is reduced to a bare minimum.

The car manufacturers want the first serial production of autonomous parking systems to become available in just a few years. The largest German car manufacturer has already set up a research MSCP at Hamburg Airport in which infrastructure, logistics and safety are being tested.

It is precisely in this research environment that one of the big questions of autonomous parking is how to deal with peak times. If many people want to drop off or pick up their cars at the same time the same problems arise as in a classic car park: traffic lanes are over-frequented, long line-ups form at entry and exit points.

Moreover, autonomous parking will not replace the regular search for a parking spot in one fell swoop. Both versions will exist side by side for a longer period and the question therefore is: how can the coexistence of automated and human behaviour be regulated?

Here, it is initially advisable to strictly set apart special areas for autonomous parking form the regular operational areas. This will, however, entail modifications of parking levels and entry lanes as well as necessitate clearly marked traffic lanes – otherwise autonomous and manually driven vehicles will disturb each other.

The autonomous car park of the future and the opportunities in urban traffic

Finding a parking spot is not only time-consuming, it also has a major impact on traffic. Especially in densely populated areas drivers looking for an available parking spot and their very particular driving patterns clog up the roads and impede smooth travel.

These traffic jams would be eliminated with an autonomous MSCP as each car would not only head to a predetermined parking spot itself, but at the same time it would enable smooth traffic flow in relation to other vehicles.

Without the stress and pressure of looking for a parking spot the driver or passenger are also more open for service offers which make the car park as a mobility hub so attractive. If retailers or service providers conveniently position themselves with service offers that are customised to the surroundings, they are more likely to be used by the car owner – either while waiting for the car to be delivered to the pick-up zone or as direct incentive after leaving the car in the safety and care of the car park system.

One way or another thanks to autonomous systems drivers as consumers and members of the target group act far more receptive if they are not occupied with the tedious task of finding an available parking spot. This opens a multitude of opportunities for the direct integration of the MSCP into different worlds of experience and work – not only in the city centre.
So far, the car park is a clearly defined appendix to other buildings with a purely functional orientation. Automation muddies the waters between function and experience, between transit and quality of stay.

This not only enhances the car park itself; it also enhances the immediate vicinity of the car park. In the future, this argument will be particularly appealing for investors and will also change the attitude of municipal administrations towards the approval of new building plots.

Automation turns car park and vehicle into service point

Autonomous parking may not be an exclusive development for the MSCP, but the special infrastructural advantages of a fixed building offer far-reaching possibilities on how to make use of automation in areas other than parking cars – to a far greater extent than in open spaces.

A car that can be opened, locked and activated by app is clearly suited to be a supply and service point for trustworthy services. This makes it conceivable for example for food suppliers to place food bought online in the boot of the consumer’s car at a specified time – the car owner simply unlocks the trunk remotely by app. Of course, what applies to fruit and vegetables also applies to all other everyday goods.

As has already been tested in a few pilot projects this would also work for parcels, which means each car could become an individual packing station. The car park offers the necessary structures for security and monitoring – without which this delivery model will be difficult to establish.

In addition, the autonomous car park would be ideally suited not only to park a vehicle but also to send it through the car wash during the driver’s absence or to offer a digitally supported maintenance service.

Any service concerning the car, for which the driver is theoretically not needed, can become part of the automated car park experience. If this idea is thought through to the end and developed in a safe manner, the parking garage app turns into an all-encompassing control device with which the user can free his day from the typical ballast of urban life.

How much of the future is already present?

With the research car park and a time horizon of a few years, autonomous driving and the future of digitalisation are basically already present. Currently, practical work is being done – the basics are already part of everyday life.

The car park as an ideal mobility hub for autonomous parking and the new service concept in urban traffic also do not need to be reinvented. After all, with its infrastructural, location-related and process-oriented factors, it is precisely the environment in which autonomous parking is developed to series production readiness.

 

The big task now is not to leave the development work just to the car manufacturers, but as car park operators and designers to work hand in hand with the most important minds in mobility, digitalisation and automation.

HUBER takes this task seriously and with every new project prepares for the challenges of the automated future. Find out how we drive this development forward and park with HUBER.

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