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Tina Casey headshot

Automated Parking and EV Charging, Coming Soon to Your Parking Lot


Automated parking and electric vehicle charging may sound like a futuristic gimmick, but according to Volkswagen the technology is proven and the reality is closer than you may think. As for the gimmickry, these automated systems have the potential to make parking facilities more convenient, efficient and safe, and that could yield some significant bottom-line benefits for businesses that adapt to the new technology.

The V-Charge automated parking and charging initiative

Volkswagen is a partner in V-Charge, a European initiative aimed at accelerating the development of automated parking systems.

The goal of V-Charge (short for Valet-Charge) is to help make urban transportation systems more efficient. The ripple effect is to encourage greater use of mass transit by vehicle owners, by making parking more convenient.

In addition, by offering the convenience of automated electric vehicle (EV) charging, the new system could provide another incentive for auto buyers to choose an EV.

The typical example cited by V-Charge is a park-and-ride commuter who can conveniently exit his or her vehicle at the entrance to a train station instead of having to find a parking spot and walk to the train station.

With automated driving, the vehicle can go off and find its own parking spot.

To ice the cake, if it is an electrical vehicle in need of a charge it will go to a charger-equipped spot. Once charged, the EV will find a regular spot to park in for the rest of its stay, leaving the charger free for another vehicle.

The key to getting the system into real-world use sooner rather than later is to demonstrate it in a controlled environment, such as a college or corporate campus. To that end, the V-Charge consortium has set this four-year goal for systems in Zurich, Switzerland, and Braunschweig, Germany:

"... The demonstration and implementation of a fully operational future car system including autonomous local transportation, valet parking and battery charging on the campus of ETH [Swiss Federal Institute of Technology] Zurich and TU [Technical University] Braunschweig. The envisioned key contribution is the development safe and fully autonomous driving in city-like environments using only low-cost GPS, camera images and ultrasonic sensors."

As described by V-Charge, the technology is relatively inexpensive, in addition to being readily available. The other piece of the puzzle is another ubiquitous piece of technology, the convenience of mobile communications, in the form of a V-Charge app. The app, among other functions, enables the vehicle owner to call the vehicle to a convenient point for pickup.

VW and automated parking

As a partner in the V-Charge initiative, Volkswagen is responsible for providing the test vehicle and developing on-board systems including safety and control, monitoring of the surrounding environment, object recognition, and automated parking.

Earlier versions date back to 2005. Today's iteration is described in a recent VW press release (break added):

"A dense network of sensory devices enables autonomous operation of the V-Charge test vehicle, which is based on a Volkswagen e Golf1. Four wide-angle cameras and two 3D cameras, twelve ultrasound sensors, digital maps and the so-called 'Car2X' technology for the vehicle's communication with the infrastructure ensure that the vehicle's surroundings are reliably detected and recognized.

"Pedestrians, vehicles and obstacles get identified, parking spaces recognized and measured and then this stream of data is put together in real time to form an overall picture – the task that the technical 'sensory organs' have to fulfill is complex and extremely varied."

Developing these onboard vehicle systems is the hard part. Once they are fully developed, automated parking and EV charging could piggyback on the existing parking infrastructure, with relatively few adjustments.

Automated parking and charging for business

That leads to the applicability of V-Charge systems to the business sector. Volkswagen notes that valet parking already has wide appeal as a convenience. By introducing a higher level of efficiency, automated systems could provide the same service while reducing emissions from gas-fueled vehicles, and encouraging the use of electric vehicles.

Automated park-and-charge systems could also become part of a company's incentive toolkit for attracting top talent, and for enhancing mobility on corporate campuses.

Automated parking and driving

Automated parking could also help to balance out an unwanted side effect that could emerge as driverless systems enter the mass market.

TriplePundit has noted that driverless systems could provide an incentive for more drivers to use individual cars rather than mass transport. The result, whether the car is gas-fueled or electric, will be an increased demand on energy resources, along with the reduced efficiencies that result from traffic congestion -- unless drivers have an incentive to use park-and-ride mass transit, such as envisioned by V-Charge.

Driverless systems and automated parking also fit seamlessly with the trend toward electric vehicle integration into individual lifestyles, Ford's MyEnergi system being one good example.

 Image: Courtesy of Volkswagen.

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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