- ford, bosch, and detroit real estate developer bedrock announced today that they will partner on a monthlong demonstration of automated valet parking technology at a new bedrock property in detroit's corktown neighborhood.
- the demonstration uses a 2020 ford escape in concert with lidar technology from bosch to autonomously move a car from a drop point to a series of parking spaces in the garage's demonstration area.
- ford, bosch, and bedrock are treating this as an information-gathering project and so far have no specific plans to bring this technology to market.
ford, bosch, and detroit-based real estate developer bedrock announced today that they're bringing north america's first demonstration of automated valet parking to detroit's corktown neighborhood this month (there is a similar project in stuttgart, germany). through the end of september, the three companies will host private demonstrations for members of the automotive industry, developers, and consumer focus groups as part of an information-gathering project that will provide data and insights on how to bring automated parking closer to reality.
the demonstration itself is relatively simple. a driver pulls a 2020 ford escape into a designated drop-off spot in the lower level of the assembly garage, a parking garage that supports a new combination residential-commercial development from bedrock. the driver exits, taps her phone to signal that the car should park. at this point a safety driver hops in the front seat (as required by safety regulations but not by any limitations of the technology—we rode shotgun and the safety driver never interacted with the vehicle except to put on a seatbelt) and the car navigates to an empty space at the end of a row of parking spaces.
in this imagined scenario, the car is navigating to an ev charging station where the battery will be replenished. but suppose the car finishes charging before our driver is ready to leave? so the demonstration moves the car from its first destination to a different spot in a perpendicular row of spaces before finally returning to the initial drop zone to be reunited with its driver.
at various points during the demonstration, the car stopped without input from the driver, first when a person walked out in front of the vehicle and stayed in its path while the escape followed at a distance. the next stop was for a clear drinking glass placed in the escape's intended path of travel—that one was for demonstration purposes only; if the system recognized an object blocking the car's path it would send the car elsewhere—finally, it hit the brakes when a miniature basketball bounced in its path as the escape headed back to the drop-off spot.
it's a seamless demonstration made more interesting by the intersection of technologies that made it possible. the escape in the demonstration didn't bear any obvious marks of being a tech mule (no laptop on the center console or hardware modules bolted in place of the infotainment system). greg stevens, ford's global manager for driver assistance technologies, says the basic systems needed for this demonstration are already in the production version of the 2020 escape. those technologies include the escape's available 4g wi-fi connectivity as well as computer-controllable steering, brakes, throttle, shifting, turn signals, and ignition.
bosch brings a bunch of lidar towers to the picture, placed at strategic intervals in the garage, to create an array across the whole demonstration area. those towers communicate with a bosch server via a wi-fi router mounted on one of the garage's walls, and the server then communicates that information back to the escape. though the escape has its own automated braking and pedestrian detection systems, every movement it made in this demonstration was informed not by its own sensors, but by information received from the bosch servers.
kevin mull, bosch's director of sales for mobility solutions, says the goal in a real-world scenario would be to replace the lidar towers with overhead stereo cameras, which are more effective, less expensive, and can double as security cameras.
this demonstration was effective but also limited. the escape travels three short, predetermined routes, and the mobile app interface that would go along with the technology doesn't exist yet, so the movements were facilitated by a bosch engineer who was on the phone with the safety driver during the demonstration. there's also the fact that, though the garage was supplied with a dozen or so new ford and lincoln vehicles, only the escape used in the demonstration can actually perform these tricks.
but to elicit shock and awe wasn't the goal of this demonstration, or of the month of demonstrations that will follow. bedrock, bosch, and ford are playing the long game. autonomous-driving applications like this one, which rely on cooperation among an automaker, a technology supplier, and a developer, will require a lot of coordination and data sharing. so far, there aren't any industry-wide standards for how that kind of information sharing should work, but they'll need to exist if projects like this one are to be widespread. "we have some ideas" about how to best coordinate the flow of information, says mull. some of this [month of demonstrations] is about validating those ideas.”
in 2018, bedrock and quicken, a mortgage provider and a large employer in the city of detroit, partnered on an autonomous shuttle pilot. bedrock's manager of parking and mobility, kevin bopp, says the feedback from people who rode in the autonomous shuttles provided insights the launch partners never would have guessed at. after the novelty of riding in an autonomous vehicle wore off, "they wanted cupholders and music," bopp says. "that's not what we expected out of the experience. we're going to hear things that we can't anticipate that inform exactly how we look to deploy [automated valet parking] full-time."
there's no timeline for when that full-time deployment might occur. but bopp, at least, has a vision of what a future with automated valet parking might look like. he imagines deploying a bedrock-owned fleet of automated-parking-capable cars in a residential building for residents and guests to reserve and use. over time, data gathered from trips to the store, to drop the kids off at school, or out on the town for a night would provide data about how and when users want to use automated parking features. ultimately, bopp says the goal of the partnership is to take the necessity of parking and turn it into "something that is unique, interesting, and elevated, and gives you back time."