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Autonomous Movement

Text
Thomas Tacke

Photos
Myrzik und Jarisch

Automatic valet parking 

Simply leave the car at the entrance to the parking garage and the car takes care of the rest by itself. At a car park in Ingolstadt, Audi is already testing this tantalizing vision – with the help of complex electronics.

All-in-all, this procedure produces a veritable flood of data. The challenge is primarily in the interaction of all the necessary sensor and control modules to create an overall concept.
Stefan Stümper

Slowly, the Audi A7 Sportback makes its way up the entrance ramp of the new north car park in Ingolstadt. Once more around the bend, then the car rolls onto the second parking level, past an empty space and stops. Reverse gear, some tidy steering and it slips into the space in two or three moves. The car is perfectly positioned. An everyday scene? An expert at the wheel? Neither. There is, in fact, nobody at the wheel. The Audi maneuvered itself into the parking space entirely on its own. The technicians refer to this as piloted parking, while laypeople are fascinated simply by the sight of the A7 steered purely by electronics.

Cars that move without any input from their driver – what sounds like science-fiction is gradually becoming reality at Audi. New technologies for piloted parking are currently under development, with one of the most sophisticated being Project Parkhauspilot. “Not everyone is at ease in a parking garage. In any case, it takes a lot of time to find a parking spot, maneuver the car into it and then collect it later. With our project, we are helping the driver with this task,” says Stefan Stümper, Project Manager with the Audi Electronics Venture (AEV), an internal Audi think tank. Parkhauspilot is among the innovation activities underway as part of Audi connect, networked mobility. Within this program, cars are being given more and more intelligence in order to make the daily task of driving more convenient. Current projects include traffic situations in which the driver would prefer not to steer himself – and perhaps soon may no longer have to. Stümper and his team have been carrying out research for some time into highly complex technologies. Practical tests are currently underway in the parking garage at the railroad station in Ingolstadt North. The team has installed several computers at a small table on the first floor and is deeply engrossed in detailed discussions on sensor sensitivity, program loops and network connections, while the Audi A7 Sportback at the entrance barrier below awaits its instructions. “In future, the driver will be able to drive his car to the entrance, step out and deliver the parking command via his smartphone or car key,” explains Stümper.

Stümper und sein Team forschen schon länger an den hochkomplexen Technologien. Im Parkhaus am Ingolstädter Nord­bahnhof laufen die praktischen Tests: An einem kleinen Tisch im ersten Stockwerk haben die Mitarbeiter mehrere Computer installiert und diskutieren akribisch über Sensorempfindlichkeiten, Pro­grammschleifen und Netzwerkverbindungen, während der Audi A7 Sportback unten an der Einfahrschranke auf seinen Einsatz war­tet. „Der Fahrer soll in Zukunft sein Auto im Eingangsbereich abstellen, aussteigen und das Einparkkommando über sein Smart­phone oder den Autoschlüssel erteilen können“, erklärt Stümper.

Dann greifen verschiedene Systeme ineinander: Im Park­­­haus ist ein zentrales Steuergerät installiert, das den Einpark­vor­gang regelt. Über eine abgesicherte WLAN-Verbindung nimmt es Kontakt mit dem Audi an der Einfahrt auf und fragt dessen wichtigste Daten ab: etwa den Typ – und damit die Abmessungen – oder vom Kunden gewünschte Dienstleistungen wie beispielsweise das kabellose Laden, wenn es sich um ein Elektrofahrzeug handelt.

… in future, parking garages could inform cars of available spaces on arrival via UMTS.

… the driver will be able to bring his car to the entrance area, get out and issue the park command via his smartphone or car key at the touch of a button.

… using a secure WLAN connection, the central control unit in the parking garage makes contact with the car and sends a route map.

… the digital guidance directs the car via its electromechanical steering to the parking space.

… an evolution of the seriesproduction Park Assist takes over the parking itself.

… with the aid of complex electronics, the car then drives itself into the space and turns itself off.

While the Audi A7 Sportback, steered by the electronics, travels its first few meters, the development engineers continue to study the data flow. The digital route guidance controls the vehicle’s electromechanical steering. It rolls along the planned route at a speed of between five and ten kilometers per hour through the Ingolstadt parking garage. An intelligent computer algorithm pulls together all the data to create a complete image of the surroundings and compares this with the route map. If, while driving or parking, an obstacle or other collision threat arises, the Audi comes to an immediate halt. The same applies should radio contact to the central computer be broken. Safety is priority number one in Project Parkhauspilot.

When the Audi A7 approaches a parking space, an evolution of the series-production Park Assist takes over the parking maneuver. As if guided by invisible forces, the car drives into the empty parking space and automatically turns itself off. When the driver wants to retrieve his car, he simply informs the car park computer via smartphone to send the car to the exit – unless he has already booked a specific pick-up time. His Audi rolls autonomously to the exit and the driver can step in as normal. The parking fee is booked automatically.

“All-in-all, this procedure produces a veritable flood of data. The challenge is primarily in the interaction of all the necessary sensor and control modules to create an overall concept,” says Stümper. Due to the enormous challenges it presents, this technology is undergoing intensive testing in order to understand a vast range of scenarios. Several times during the tests, the AEV team resets the sensors, modifies parameters on the computers and checks the data connection between the parking garage and the vehicle.

“We have already achieved significant success, but are still at an early stage and several years away from development for series production,” says Bernhard Müller-Beßler, AEV Coordinator for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. This is due, on the one hand, to the technology with all of its variables and, on the other, to the infrastructure. “Widespread implementation and the associated equipment of parking garages obviously call for a regulatory framework, too. A number of automakers are working together with the authorities to achieve this.” The issue of liability also needs to be clarified. But Stefan Stümper is convinced: “This project has enormous potential!”