My annual pilgrimage to the New York Auto Show reminded me of just how much hassle it can be to park in the world’s most important city. (It’s the world’s most important city because it is the setting for the HBO show, Girls). For people who are not wealthy and/or well-connected, simply finding a place to dump a car off for a day or so can be fraught with drama. Not only are most Manhattan garages well into the $45-a-day zone, that price doesn’t get you any of the things most Americans take for granted in a parking spot — in/out privileges, access to their vehicles to drop off shopping items or pick up a change of clothes, or even a half-hearted hope that they might be able to leave a valuable item in the trunk. I wound up leaving my rented 2013 Caravan jammed up into a not-a-space in the Port Authority Bus Terminal’s garage, walking a few miles each way to the Village to see a couple of musicians perform, and begging the Port Authority cops to let me have my car back at three in the morning.
Things will get worse in the world of urban parking before they get better… but what if you could fix most of these issues at a reasonable cost?
MIT Technology Review has an overview this week on self-parking cars. No, not self-parking cars like the current crop of Ford Flexes and Escapes, but cars that are capable of intelligently driving themselves to a parking spot deep in the labyrinthine hellholes that pass for parking garages in major cities. Imagine simply pulling up to an intelligent garage in your intelligent Audi or Toyota or whatever and handling over control to the garage systems. Your car would drive to the appropriate area and shut itself down, packing itself as tightly as mechanically possible. When you needed it again, you could simply request that it come back out, at which point you could, say, toss that Ovation 1991 Collectors’ edition you’d been hoping to play a few newly-learned Fleet Foxes songs on during your time in a hotel that you never actually saw because you were out all night instead back into the trunk. Following said Ovation’s dropoff you could then go about your business like a pair of stormtroopers.
This sort of this will absolutely be the proverbial camel’s nose in the proverbial tent because it renders all the conventional objections against self-driving cars completely moot. You aren’t surrendering your freedom of the open road to a faceless machine; you’re leaving your $100,000 car in its own competent care rather than in the hands of two scar-faced Russian emigres with no idea how to drive a manual transmission. You aren’t expecting it to deal with complicated traffic issues or potential collisions at freeway speeds; instead, it’s free to trundle around at a walking pace. It can’t accidentally hurt anyone, as the garage shouldn’t have any people in it to begin with.
Only the cost is an issue, and that cost will surely drop as time goes on and more processing power is thrown at what should honestly be a simple problem. The Infiniti Q50, to name an early example, already has all the hardware required to electronically direct itself; it only needs a brain.
Imagine it: the freedom to drive into any city in the world, hand your car off to a garage, and enjoy safe, secure, lower-cost storage for however long you require it. Yes, it will once again sharply bifurcate the urban population into people who can afford the technology and those who cannot, but at $44.75 a day, haven’t the ninety-nine percent already been forcibly invited to take the train?