BMW to show automated valet parking without GPS at CES
At the entrance of the car park the driver disembarks. Through a smartwatch the driver instructs the vehicle to find a parking lot and walks away. After a business appointment or shopping spree, the driver transmits a message to the vehicle and right at the moment when the driver arrives at the car park exit, the vehicle appears: this scenario, dubbed Remote Valet Parking Assistant is what BMW will demonstrate at the upcoming CES in Las Vegas.
In order to make such a scenario possible, the carmaker has developed an innovative sensor platform enabling the vehicle to navigate at the high degree of precision required to drive inside a multi-storey car park with narrow curves, limited space and sudden cross-traffic. The platform utilises four lidar sensors at each corner of the vehicle; these sensors deliver more precise and detailed information about the vehicle’s surroundings. In addition, the sensors have to be capable of determining the current level in the car park, which is not possible with satellite-based navigation systems like GPS, besides the fact that inside such buildings GPS signals are not available anyway.
While BMW did not go into technical details of its sensor platform, there are combinations of MEMS and barometric pressure sensors available that provide the data required to navigate in such an environment — the MEMS sensor provides longitudinal and transverse motion that are used for dead reckoning, and the pressure sensor provides the information about the altitude which can be used to determine the level or floor. Interestingly, the platform also makes use of lidar sensors. Until recently these sensors have been said to be too expensive for use in series production, as BMW development manager Werner Huber acknowledged in an interview in October. Nevertheless, BMW apparently bets on new models and / or a lower price level for this kind of sensors. "If you take the potential market entry for this technology into account — which could be around 2020 — these sensors could become affordable", a company spokesperson explained.
BMW’s fully-automated remote valet parking assistant unfortunately does not work in any car park — the building’s geometries have to be surveyed very exactly beforehand to create a digital site map. This map can either be stored in the vehicle or communicated in real-time via wireless connection to the vehicles circulating in the building.
The sensor platform at hand will also be used to generate the electronic surroundings data for a 360-degree collision avoidance assistant, which also will be at display at the CES. If the vehicle approaches an obstacle too quickly, the system brakes automatically to prevent collision. If the driver steers away from the obstacle or changes direction, the system releases the brakes. With this system, the carmaker aims to relieve the burden on the driver in environments with poor visibility (like multi-storey or underground car parks).