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Detroit Smart Parking Lab partners Ford, Bosch and Bedrock have prior experience with the DSPL site, conducting an automated valet-parking pilot program initiated in summer 2020. (Ford)

Ford, Bosch demo automated-parking project in Detroit

Detroit public parking garage will be outfitted with sensors to enable a demonstration fleet of Ford Escapes to park without human intervention.

Ford, Bosch and real estate firm Bedrock are preparing North America’s first demonstration of automated parking in a public garage outfitted with the technology to enable a fleet of Ford Escapes to self-park after the occupants have left the vehicle. The program intends to demonstrate the potential for low-speed advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) to alleviate driver workload and enhance convenience.

Bedrock, owner of the Assembly Garage in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit in which Ford is underway with significant rehabilitation investment to support its new-mobility initiatives and infrastructure trials, said the first floor of the parking garage will be dedicated to the pilot project. In addition to parking, future uses might include automatic navigation to a recharging or minor-service area.

The promises of automated parking are significant, the program’s partners said in a virtual conference with media. For drivers, there is the convenience of exiting the vehicle at a designated spot, eliminating the often-tedious task of finding an open parking space, as well as the associated time savings. Bedrock chief information officer Heather Wilberger said the real estate firm estimates 20% more vehicles can park in the same garage footprint (with obvious revenue-enhancement implications) – or a new garage could be significantly smaller for a given required capacity, reducing construction costs and freeing often valuable urban space for other uses.

“The benefit is astronomical,” Wilberger enthused. But for now, she admits, the demonstration is scheduled to run for Assembly Garage tenants and other individuals until the end of September. Asked if it will continue after this brief exposition, Wilberger said there is “no definite answer. There’s more to come.”

The driverless-parking functionality is enabled by sensors – in this case, lidar, although other less-costly sensing technology such as advanced cameras, is possible – installed at critical junctures in the garage, along with ethernet connections and a small area to contain the system’s small network server, said Bosch North America president Mike Mansuetti. Meanwhile, the vehicle must be outfitted with a modem to allow communication with the garage infrastructure, as well as steer-by-wire capability, which is not uncommon in many contemporary production-vehicle ADAS systems. Crucially, the garage technology can be retrofitted to existing structures.

When arriving, the driver and any other occupants disembark in a designated area and use a mobile-phone app to initiate the automated-parking process. The vehicle then employs its two-way communication with the garage infrastructure to navigate to an open parking spot and park the vehicle. The process is reversed when the vehicle’s occupants return after having summoned the vehicle to the pickup area.

Mansuetti confirmed the project represents the first infrastructure-connected automated-parking demonstration in North America. He also confirmed that the Detroit project using Bosch’s Automated Valet Parking (AVP) system mirrors a program in Germany in which Bosch is collaborating with Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz. “A lot of people love to drive,” Mansuetti said. “But nobody loves to drive around the garage looking for a parking spot.”

Ford chief technology officer Ken Washington said employing infrastructure to assist with some automated-driving functions is important for continuing technology study and validation. But also to evaluate for its potential to reduce vehicle cost. “Our work with Bosch and Bedrock also aligns with our vision for the future, which includes increasingly automated vehicles that are more aware of their surroundings while requiring less on-board computing to help improve design, packaging and affordability.”

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