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Automated Valet Parking (AVP): Test at Stuttgart Airport

Bosch and Mercedes are testing fully automated parking with the new S-Class at Stuttgart Airport. The big advantage: Less stress for the driver, more space for the car park operator. But how convenient is driverless parking really?

My boss sent me to a press event in Hamburg. So far, so good: brush your teeth, pack your bags – and off to the airport. There's not much going on on the A8 yet, the traffic only gets heavier in front of the entrance to the parking garage. Some of the car parks are already full, the remaining spaces are a fair walk from the departure terminal. I don't really have much space with my station wagon in the mostly multi-storey buildings. Without maneuvering, I can hardly make it around the tight corners straight away. So put it in reverse again and back. The plane leaves in 40 minutes – that could be tight.

Bosch wants to write "mobility history"

It's good that I'm actually not in a hurry, let alone have to fly to Hamburg. The full car parks were also a lie, because they have only been used to around 20 percent at Stuttgart Airport since the beginning of the pandemic. I am on the ground floor of P6. A pilot car park, as several signs at the entrance make clear. According to Bosch, "mobility history" is to be written there today.

Together with Mercedes-Benz, the supplier is testing what is known as Automated Valet Parking, or AVP for short. An S-Class is to park in one of the oldest and also narrowest car parks at the airport without a driver and fully automatically. At the end of the test operation, Bosch wants the AVP permit from the legislature.

Automated valet parking: Parking with harmony - and without a driver

Parking, undeniably a highly emotional experience. No one really likes doing it, especially not under observation and especially not when impatient drivers in the rear-view mirror are annoyed and honking their horns – pure stress.

In P6, two so-called "drop-off" zones were set up around 15 meters behind the barrier. In the future, AVP users will park their vehicles on these generously dimensioned areas, unload their luggage from the vehicle and start the actual parking process via an app. The car then looks for a free parking space. The driver is already on his way to the terminal. By the way: Just as the car parks itself, it also comes back to the marked area on app command - sounds pretty cool.

So much for the theory. The fact that the technology also works in real operation is shown to me live using the example of the new S-Class. The flagship from Mercedes fulfills level 4 autonomous driving, therefore does not need a driver behind the wheel and is the world's first production vehicle with AVP technology on board. Although the latter doesn't need that much: the S-Class mainly uses the existing series technology.Expensive sensors are not required. Only a special module is required to be able to communicate with the parking garage computer. In the future, potential buyers can order the comfort function via the "Intelligent Park Pilot" option. According to the manufacturer, the costs are in the low, four-digit range - for S-Class drivers, the price should be of secondary importance anyway.

Old parking garages, new technology

Compared to previous test projects , Bosch does not use lidar sensors in the P6, but inexpensive cameras. Around 180 of them were mounted on the ceiling. They determine the position of the vehicle ten times per second. A server two floors above me collects the data. From there, the driving command for the car is calculated and sent to the car via WiFi. The system also detects possible objects on the floor through a specially speckled coating. If a luggage trolley is in the way, the technology reports the incident and informs an employee.

More space, more cars, more costs

The AVP system obviously has several advantages: The sensors don't have to be in the car, only in the parking garage. This also makes it easier for other automobile manufacturers to use the technology. Bosch is already in intensive talks with other companies. With whom exactly, no one wanted to tell me. Since the camera infrastructure can be easily installed in a parking garage, the technology is also interesting for older buildings. Modular retrofitting, i.e. floor by floor, is also not a problem.

That's another reason why it's a very interesting concept for car park operators like Apcoa. The company operates more than 9,500 locations in 13 countries with a total of around 1.5 million parking spaces. Since parking with AVP is completely driverless, the vehicles can be parked closer together. This provides more space. Apcoa expects a space gain of 20 percent. At the same time, the largest operating company in Europe is trying to make the payment process as contact-free as possible. In other words: no vending machine, no ticket, no push of a button at the barrier. Certainly not a bad idea in times of Corona.

Conclusion

It's impressive how precisely the more than five meter long S-Class elegantly takes the tight curves in the parking garage. But do we really need such frills? I'm skeptical, pack up my things, head back to my station wagon and throw my work bag in the trunk. An SUV is parked right next to me. I suck in my stomach to somehow get behind the wheel. The whistle concert of the sensors when parking leaves me the rest, and where was the exit ticket again? That's right, in the bag in the trunk. Maybe the AVP isn't such a bad idea after all - provided it doesn't get too expensive. It is not yet known how much the service will ultimately cost.But it must be clear: A premium service should also have a premium price.

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