It may be a while before you can take a nap while your car drives you to Cleveland, but some primitive versions of self-driving technology are starting to appear as luxury options -- think steering and braking assist features offered by luxury carmakers.
BMW, the world’s largest luxury car maker, will show off a modified version of its i3 electric minicar at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month that can park itself in any conventional parking garage.
Self-parking technology is already out, at least for anyone who can afford the pricey option packages on a six-figure luxury car, like the Active Parking Assist for the Mercedes S-Class. But that technology is mainly for the parallel-parking adverse -- you sit back and let the car handle the maneuvering. Now, BMW is about to show off one of the most complex self-parking maneuvers, one where the car leaves you at the mall entrance and wanders off to find a parking spot.
BMW’s Remote Valet Parking Assistant can be activated by a smartwatch app, allowing drivers to exit their vehicles at the mall entrance. Using four laser scanners the i3 can prowl the garage for an open space and back into an available slot. The car can then be hailed remotely to meet its driver at the drop-off point.
Audi presented similar technology at CES 2014, but it required laser sensors to be installed in the garage to help the car navigate. BMW says its Remote Valet Parking Assistant can navigate any parking garage, avoiding obstacles autonomously through its four laser scanners. Neither BMW’s nor Audi’s systems rely on GPS-based positioning, which doesn’t work in elevated or underground structures. This makes the automatic valet completely independent of any external technical support.
One of the major hurdles to this and other autonomous driving features isn’t the lack of innovation but rather the roadblocks of government oversight. A 46-year-old Vienna convention embraced by Europe’s largest auto markets, requires drivers to be able to control their vehicles at all times.
The U.S. Department of Transportation only last year began formulating its policies regarding the technology, while a small number of U.S. states, including California, Nevada and Florida, allow limited use for testing on public roads with special licenses. Insurers are still working out legal liability issues, such as who’s responsible when a self-driving car is involved in an accident.