Autonomous parking: around the corner or distant fantasy?

Technology and Business

Phil Brown

Phil Brown




Parking has never been the simplest  task, but  choose the wrong time or a busy place and it becomes a nightmare. Could autonomous driving tech change that?  


In this article, Phil will be looking at:

  • How will technology help us to find a parking space quicker?
  • Are stressful parking manoeuvres becoming a thing of the past?
  • How does automated parking work, and is it happening soon?
  • What does the future of parking look like?



How do we find a parking space in the first place?

Picture the scene: it’s a busy Saturday, you’re late for an appointment and there’s a huge queue outside of your regular car park. If only you had known it was full...


This is where Continental’s Parkpocket app is changing the norm. We spoke with the app’s creators to understand how Parkpocket works, and what the benefit is for consumers.


Working closely with car parks in over 60 cities across Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Parkpocket allows drivers to compare car parks, showing free locations, locations that are accessible, and even the option to book parking before arrival.


“Our idea was to create a marketplace similar to AirBnB, but just for parking. We first developed a side feature, which was comparing on and off-street parking spaces, but that has now become our main business model”, says the creator of the app.


With data gathered from users and shared by partnering car parks, the app shows available spaces in real time, calculates the price of their stay and even provides directions to make the journey more efficient. Essentially, it takes all the hassle out of finding somewhere to park.  


“We use automated processes to keep our data up to date, and users can view their prospective parking space in real time. The average time spent looking for a parking space is 10 minutes, but more interestingly, 30% of inner-city traffic is caused by people looking for a space.”


Knowing where a free space is and how to get there saves us time, fuel and money, and the best part is that the Parkpocket app is available now from both app stores, giving drivers a taste of the future of parking.

Parking app 2025ad

Taking the stress away with park assist features 

Parking, especially parallel or reverse parking, can be stressful. Increasingly, though, we’re not having to do it alone. 


The demand is clear; we’ve seen multiple features which help us to park have become more and more common in recent years. Drivers long for more efficient ways to park which, particularly in tricky spaces, rely less on personal judgement and more on machine learning. Developers have answered that call. 


Park assist features are now commonplace in most models and self-parking cars are already a reality. Whether it’s a top of the range Mercedes with sophisticated Parktronic features, or a Ford Fiesta with active park assist taking control of the wheel, the most complex aspects of parking are being taken out of our hands


What is automated parking? 

Taking this a step further, a new vision for autonomous parking has emerged out of the EU project, AUTOPILOT (Automated Driving Progresses by the Internet of Things). Automated valet parking, as researchers from the DLR Institute of Transportation Systems have dubbed it, removes both the physical challenge of parking in tight spaces and the need to search out a free spot in the first place. 




Automated Valet parking 2025AD

It works like this: On arriving at the designated spot for handover, the driver will get out of their car and use an app to send it to a space in the car park, trusting the vehicle to navigate the route and park safely. When the driver’s ready to leave, they simply call the car back to the handover spot and get behind the wheel.


The idea is simple enough and though the practicalities are incredibly complex, an automated valet system is already in place at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.


Developed by Bosch and Daimler, this system relies on an intelligent parking garage infrastructure which uses sensors along driving corridors to provide the information needed to guide vehicles inside.


This isn’t Daimler’s first partnership with another provider to deliver ‘techy’ assets like sensors; they’ve also partnered with graphics and display giant Nvidia to deliver the image processing that will be used by driverless cars to ‘see’ the road ahead.


However, researchers at AUTOPILOT, which looks closely at the tandem development of automation, including the sensors, LIDAR, AI and various technologies that go into driverless cars, and the Internet of Things, propose a more flexible approach. DLR scientist Marcus Müller explains that information about free parking spaces could come instead from a networked and fully autonomously flying drone. “Unlike stationary cameras,” he says, “the drone can be used flexibly, for example in parking areas without infrastructure or only temporarily used parking areas, such as a field at a festival.” 


Existing car parks, temporary car parks and even on-street spots could all take advantage of the flexibility drones offer, and as cars become smarter, they could share information on available spaces too, building a huge and ever-changing database to assist driverless parking.


Sadly, we’re still some way off this yet. Even with this tech just around the corner, we’ll still need at least level three autonomy to be legalised and ratified – something that is still in the pipeline.



The future of parking


As well as making the actual process easier, automation in this fashion could make parking more efficient. With no need for drivers to enter and exit their vehicles in a parking space, the spots used by driverless cars could become smaller, allowing us to park more cars in the same square footage.


Imagine being dropped off at work, the shopping centre or sports stadium, then having your car go off and do the hard work of space-hunting, or heading off to pre-organised space, saving further fuel, while you focus on what you came to do.


Perhaps, as autonomous tech continues to develop, parking itself will become a thing of the past. If cars are shared, or can run errands without us, will we even need to park at all?


The roll out of more and more parking assist features on new cars means we won’t need to park completely manually; even as fully autonomous vehicles remain some way off.  Parking as we know it looks likely to become a thing of the past. We may not have to drive in circles hoping for a free space again, and apps like Parkpocket are paving the way there already today.



Are you looking forward to a life without parking hassles? Would you feel comfortable leaving your car to go off and park itself? Join in the debate in the comments section below.



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