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Self-parking cars and driverless trucks: The next step in automation

Fabian Hoberg

ANN/THE STAR/DPA – A quick tap on a smartphone app and your car is already finding a parking space in car park – and all without you having to sit behind the wheel. It’s a dream come true for anyone with a phobia of parking garages (and for anyone in a hurry).

After front and rear beepers came cameras for a better overview when parking. Now the first models can drive themselves into the parking space without any human intervention.

To do so, the cars have to meet Level 4 on the internationally recognised scale of automated driving functions. Up to now, cars have only assisted drivers when parking, which requires, at most, Level 2.

Because there doesn’t have to be a human onboard, a self-parking car needs to be reliable “99.99999999 per cent of the time”, said professor of automotive engineering at the Technical University of Munich Markus Lienkamp.

“That’s an enormous challenge that requires fast, predictive, and very good sensors and computers.”

One of the first manufacturers to arrive at that level is Mercedes-Benz. Together with Bosch, the company has received approval for a Level 4 system in a parking garage at Stuttgart Airport. This will allow suitably equipped S-Class and EQS models to park there without a driver.

“The challenge is that the system must perform this task in all situations, even if another car suddenly blocks the way,” said Joachim Missel, who heads the autonomous driving development department at Mercedes.

With the help of little more than a smartphone, sensors and software, cars are now finding their own way around multi-storey car parks to park on their own. PHOTO: DPA


First, the driver reserves a parking space using the Mercedes app. In a defined handover area in the parking garage the car is left to its own devices and the parking process is initiated using the app.

For the car to park successfully, it needs its own infrastructure in the parking garage: specially developed stereo cameras from Bosch and a radio link so that information can be shared between the parking garage and the vehicle.

“The safety risk is low; the sensors don’t have to look as far or as quickly ahead as they do at highway speeds,” Lienkamp said.

But automakers are aiming at more than just self-parking cars. With more powerful sensors, Level 4 will also be possible at high speeds before the end of this decade.

Initially, this will be reserved for luxury vehicles such as those from Audi, BMW, Porsche and Mercedes. Or, perhaps, trucks?


There are already practical examples of this, and truck manufacturer MAN has joined forces with the Technical University of Munich and other partners to build the Truck Atlas-L4.

In this test project on public roads, a trailer is delivered by a driver to a lift station. There, a Level 4 truck takes over the load and drives independently to the next logistics centre.

However, a human is still on board to intervene if necessary. At the destination, a driver takes over the trailer again and brings it to the customer with a conventional truck.

In the US, Torc Robotics has converted several trucks into autonomous vehicles and has been driving them around the southern part of the country.

There’s still a human behind the wheel but in two years the trucks are supposed to be able to travel on their own.

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