At a parking garage in Stuttgart Airport, there’s a curious sign for Automated Valet Parking. It’s a project developed by Mercedes in partnership with Bosch and Apcoa that allows your car to park itself in the garage, leaving you to head straight for your flight.
I visited the parking garage for myself this week and got a full demo of the process. The process is actually fully open to the public – you just need to have the right car. The technology required to use it has been made open source, so that other manufacturers can use it, but right now only Mercedes-Benz models are compatible.
The Intelligent Park Pilot technology required to operate the automated valet parking is currently available for seven models of Mercedes-Benz, including the Mercedes S-Class (including the LWB version), Mercedes EQS, EQS SUV, EQE, EQE SUV and the new Mercedes E-Class. You need to pre-book one of these slots in advance, which you can do through the MercedesMe app.
As you arrive at the car park, the cameras register your number plate and open the barrier. You then drive into one of the two specially designed drop off bays and take all of your luggage out of the car. There’s a waiting zone next to the car and from here you can go back into your MercedesMe app and select ‘Drop off’. The car will then connect with the system and the lights will flash.
The next part is quite eerie to watch. Your car will turn back on and start reversing out of the space on its own and drive off into the car park. For safety reasons, it does this at little more than a crawl’s pace and if it detects any obstacles in the way it will pause – even the smallest item in the road.
Our EQS indicated and then drove down the ramp to the lower level of the car park. Once it reached the pre-assigned space, it indicated again and started to reverse in. The parking process took just under 10 minutes, but once you hit the drop off button, you don’t need to stay – you’re free to leave and let the car do the rest.
As this is a level 4 automation, you are not responsible for your car at this stage – it’s the onboard computer that is doing the driving. The car park has been fitted with Bosch cameras throughout and 5G connectivity. The car then uses the data from these cameras to assist with the movement in addition to its own onboard cameras.
When you return to the car park, you can use the app to call your car back to the drop off area – in advance of you arriving. The car will then reverse the process, leaving the parking space itself and putting itself back in the drop off area, ready for you to pick it up.
The car park Mercedes has used for this live demonstration is very old and has really narrow turns and slopes. This meant that the rather large EQS often had to make lots of small turns to position itself for the ramps but it did it perfectly.
Driving through narrow car parks like this can be stressful with large, expensive cars, even for experienced drivers like me. I’ve dinked many an alloy wheel in the past and have seen others do much worse, so letting the car take on the challenge is a welcome relief. I’ve also never been a fan of handing my keys over to a complete stranger to drive my car away. Maybe I’ve watched Ferris Beuller's Day Off too many times.
Here you keep hold of your keys at all times, and can return to your car if you’ve forgotten something, and can drive it out manually if you prefer. The interesting thing about this system is that it doesn’t require an operator and could easily be scaled up. The team behind the project say there’s no reason why you couldn’t have a full car park full of automated parking spaces.
As these garages are typically on private land, restrictions on autonomous driving often don’t apply, so the roll out of this is likely to be much faster than driverless cars on the road. In just a few years time, the idea of parking yourself in any parking garage could be a thing of the past, and I’m okay with that.