MADISON, Wis. -- Call me old-fashioned, but autonomous driving is a concept that has never fired my loins. I picture myself driving on a street in a big city -- say, Boston. I look at the car in the next lane, only to realize that there's no driver there. I mean, it's bad enough driving in Boston. I want somebody I can yell at.
So, though I'm stubbornly dubious of autonomous driving, I find myself strangely fascinated with the idea of autonomous parking. Imagine how liberating it would be just to tell your car, "Park somewhere," while you jump out of the driver's seat and head for Legal Sea Foods. There'd be no more late arrivals and lame excuses about not finding a spot.
Everyone from Google to Audi and Volvo has been showing off research and development efforts and results for autonomous driving. Audi showed its version of a self-parking car at the International Consumer Electronics Show this year. Volvo released a video clip last month showcasing its new autonomous parking technology. The Swedish automaker says this is the first self-parking prototype that "interacts safely and smoothly with other cars and pedestrians."
Volvo says its prototype enters and navigates a car park and then finds and parks in an available spot.
Of course, when any new technology comes out, nobody takes vendors' claims at face value. For example, Volvo's latest system relies on what it calls Vehicle 2 Infrastructure (V2I) technology. In other words, the system requires a parking structure that comes with embedded transmitters. You can't send your Volvo off to hunt for a parking spot totally on its own.
To me, this is a huge disappointment. I was initially warm to the self-parking concept, because I erroneously assumed that I would no longer have to drive around block after block to find a spot. What was I thinking?
Imagine how long it would take to equip each and every parking lot and street space with a smart infrastructure (like V2I) capable of wirelessly exchanging necessary data with all vehicles. An eternity? Maybe longer.
Though the V2I technology is designed primarily to avoid or mitigate crashes, Volvo says its prototype car doesn't rely on V2I for avoiding pedestrians or rogue shopping carts. Rather, its system comes with in-vehicle sensors to avoid such objects.