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Volvo’s Self-Parking Car Technology Makes Tons of Sense Unless You’re a Valet

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Volvo said it will demonstrate its self-parking car technology next week– an autonomous car role that makes tons of sense unless, perhaps, you’re a valet parking attendant.

According to the official press release from Volvo, the system works very much like a valet service. You pull into a designated “drop off” zone, get out of the car, and using your smartphone, tell the car you want it to park itself– which it does in a nearby designated parking structure. When you’re ready to leave, you use your smartphone to send a signal to the car, which then autonomously drives out of the parking structure to a designated “pick up” zone, where you get in and resume control of the vehicle.

The valets at that swanky joint downtown probably aren’t too thrilled about Volvo’s self-parking car. I can imagine their employer loving this idea, however. If every car were one day equipped with this type of autonomous parking technology, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine you could be charged a fee just the same as a valet service would charge for parking your car. Smartphones are increasingly acting as digital wallets, anyway. The parking structure and valet service owners of the world would be right to be licking their chops at the idea of one day losing almost all their labor overhead costs.

To be fair, the Volvo release made sure to point out the self-parking car would use “sensors to localize and navigate to a free parking space,” not a valet or other pay-to-park arrangement. But like all good technological developments, give it enough time to catch on, and you can bet it would be monetized. Heavily. Audi’s “Piloted Parking” system similarly is only one smartphone app update away from being able to bill you for parking privileges.

Unlike Audi’s system, in which the German automaker encouraged the driver to remain in the car and vigilant,  the self-parking technology Volvo is demonstrating interacts with its environment seamlessly, with no driver present. It can stop for pedestrians, other cars, and even kids on skateboards, if Volvo’s promotional video is to be believed.

Volvo Car Group Senior Safety Advisor Thomas Broberg said, “Our approach is based on the principle that autonomously driven cars must be able to move safely in environments with non-autonomous vehicles and unprotected road users.”

Volvo’s plans for autonomous  vehicle technology are coming on fast, according to the release:

Volvo Car Group’s aim is to gain leadership in the field of autonomous driving by moving beyond concepts and actually delivering pioneering technologies that will reach the customers. The Autonomous Parking concept is one of several development projects in this field.

Volvo Cars has also been the only participating car manufacturer in the SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project, which was successfully completed in 2012. The project involved seven European partners. It is the only one of its kind to focus on technology that can be implemented on
conventional highways on which platooned traffic operates in a mixed environment with other road
users.

The SARTRE platoon included a lead truck followed by four Volvos driven autonomously at speeds of up to 90 km/h – in some cases with no more than a four-meter gap between the vehicles.

Broberg said while the self-parking, autonomous-convoying Volvo is a ways off in the future, the first technologies from these studies will start creeping into Volvos very soon.

” The autonomous parking and platooning technologies are still being developed. However, we will take the first steps towards our leadership aim by introducing the first features with autonomous steering in the all-new Volvo XC90, which will be revealed at the end of 2014,” he said.

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