By on April 1, 2013

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?

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24 Comments on “The Self-Driving Car’s Nose Sneaks Into The Parking Garage’s Tent...”

  • avatar

    Yes, it was painful leaving the ride that took us 1000 miles into the heart of Chelsea, along with our complete load of valuables including some barely legal armaments. However, my Chelsea cousin said they were completely professional and not to worry. She was right. Upon pickup, it was all there, intact and complete. No scratches, nothing to buff out.

    I think he was Greek, not Russian, and didn’t have much accent. I tried looking for a self-service parking lot, but there were none to be found. Funny thing is, I didn’t miss the Nox while it was parked, nor anything in it. NYC is like that–plenty to keep you occupied.

  • avatar

    Until I can get into a car and tell it to “take me to Walmart”, and be taken to Walmart at speeds right up to and including the speed limit and then be driven right to the front of Walmart and simply get out and either allow the car to search for a park or wait for me in the “no standing zone” – it can not truly “drive itself”.

    When I step out of Walmart, I should be able to push a button on my keyring to summon the car and it should leave its parking space, come to me and pick me up and then take me to the mall or back home. Then I get out and it parks itself again.

    This Audi is doing these things in a VERY CONTROLLED environment. How can that car detect “rolling shopping carts” and all the possibilities that sensors either can’t detect or can’t avoid that a human could???

    A HUMAN can do these things. Until artificial intelligence exists, no car can truly “drive itself”. All they are doing is “directing themselves” through traffic.

    These “self parking” systems are equally misleading. If the car can “self park”, I should be able to simply tap a button asking it to park itself. At that point I SHOULD NOT have to use the accelerator, brake or gear shift AT ALL.

    And even if they had a car that could do all this, I WOULDN’T WANT IT if you GAVE it to me.

    Imagine a “self driving Bugatti Veyron” with an artificial intelligence as good as KITT. What’s the point of driving a car if I can’t drive? That’s not cool. Sure it would be good for blind/ handicapped people, or those times when you’d rather text than drive – or hop into the backseat with your girlfriend, but it takes away the privilege of driving.

    • 0 avatar

      “Until I can get into a car and tell it to “take me to Walmart”, and be taken to Walmart”

      Even better, “go to walmart, buy stuff, and bring it back to me.” A robotic assistant might not even need a car to do that.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    Dang that automation: There’s a small spell check induced typo at the beginning of the fourth paragraph.

  • avatar

    I’d rather just stay the hell away from NYC or any other place that I can’t just park my car and do what I need to do.

  • avatar

    An automated, self-driving manual? Do tell.

  • avatar

    One of my perks is that I get free parking and free valet in a parking structure like this in Boston. It’s in my building so I don’t even have to put on a jacket. In the winter I can get to that particular office without venturing outside for even a millisecond. Yet, I will still fork over money and deal with the weather by taking public transportation, because driving into a major city is such a pain.

    What you’ll probably see first in automated garages is a sort of automated wheeled carrier that will pick your car up, take it to a parking spot and drop it back down. Less costly than implementing the tech in individual vehicles. The carrier would also know it’s way around it’s individual garage, so less tech needed to implement. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if this sort of tech isn’t already out there.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, free valet. I used to be a valet parker in High School and college in Los Angeles. Mainly private parties in the hills, some commercial accounts like yours.

      Basically I can’t believe I was actually paid to do what I did. Believe me when I tell you that if you get your car valet parked and you care about it at all, tip the man UP FRONT and politely ask him to park it nearby, as you may be leaving again soon. He won’t want to run to the hinterlands to get it 10 minutes after parking it. And don’t think that your boring car or minivan won’t get hooned, often it becomes the “shuttle” car for the next 15-20 minutes. Once the 5-man valet crew has had its way with your car, it’s off to the next victim.

      Actually if you care about your car AT ALL, you will park it yourself.

  • avatar

    If there is anywhere people need self-driving cars its NYC.

    For starters, at least in Manhattan, driving SUCKS 5 days a week 12 hours a day. The rest of the time most people are home and or asleep.

    Second of all, cab drivers are terrible, combining aggression with fatigue and a general lack of driving skills. As much as it would suck for those dudes to be out of work, I literally trust a computer behind the wheel more. Plus without that labor cost (or the cost of medallions) the cost of cabs would be lower for all. No more cabbies cutting across 4 lanes of traffic for a fare, etc.

    Third of all, the gas + emissions savings would be huge. Cars could be redesigned specifically for city duty, with purely electric cars & quick swap batteries on hand to handle in-city fares, and diesel hybrids to handle long trips (i.e. airport runs). Cars could calculate the most efficient routes and plan ahead for refueling and battery replacements, w/”battery farms” constantly charging.

    The whole thing would be an awesome test bed for self-driving technology, and I think a lot of NYers would get behind it.

    • 0 avatar

      That car would get destroyed in NYC by some A-hole cabby breaking the law.

      How fast can a self-driving car react to illegal u-turns and tailgating?

      And when it does get hit- WHO TESTIFIES???

      it’s my word vs. the car’s!!!

      • 0 avatar

        Dude, get over it. It’s happening.

        No one is going to make you buy one.

        • 0 avatar

          “Dude, get over it. It’s happening.”

          It won’t happen in the way you think it’s going to happen. I’m deep in the trenches in some of the tech involved. In the most recent DARPA challenge we participated in, they wanted us to build something that used existing human tools and could drive an unmodified vehicle. So, what you’ll see eventually won’t be something that doesn’t just drive you around, but is able to perform errands for you. Much better functionality.

          A dedicated autonomous car is only a partial solution to a problem. The real objective should be to completely free the human from the entire task that prompted the trip. Of course in many instances, employers will more than likely eliminate the need for the human’s trip to work with their own in-house robots!

        • 0 avatar

          NYC will have self driving cabs – eventually. But it will lag BEHIND in the self driving car business.

          NYC suffers from a high population density – which has already led to TOO MANY FRIGGIN CARS on the road.

          How exactly is taking a bunch of people who can’t drive in the city and giving them self driving cars going to ‘solve’ any problem?

          Let’s face it when you approach the population density of NYC cars are borderline useless.

          They are set to add in more cabs in a year or two – making an already awful situation worse.

          The only thing that would have helped NYC would have been really strong congestion pricing.

      • 0 avatar

        Dude you are being needlessly reactionary/emotional. Think before you post.

        If you read my post you would see that these cars would REPLACE cabbies. So there wouldn’t be any cabbies to break the law. The black Town Car drivers for Manhattan execs are much much better on the road than the sleep deprived yellow cab drivers.

        A self driving car could probably react faster and better than you could to any road conditions. And in Manhattan there are very few blocks where people can do u turns. In any case these cars would be going the legal speed limit, so they would probably be able to react better than the avg speed demon, texting cell phone in one hand, beef patty & coco bread in the other hand, loud music blasting NYer in the places where you can make u turns.

        When someone gets hit, they could pull the car’s speed and video logs. So if something did go bad with the car, it would be right there. But if you fucked up, it would be right there too.

        I live in Manhattan and I ride a motorcycle or pedal bike to work probably 8 months out of the year. I’m here. These things would be a god send. People are generally pretty bad drivers- NY cabbies are probably the WORST. Replacing them with computers would be a good thing.

  • avatar

    Here’s what you’d really do, Jack. If you’re just going to run into a store for a moment, you send your Audi to go drive around the block “looking for a place to park.” It won’t find a place, but will pick you up again as you emerge from the bagel store with your regulah coffee and shmear. But truly, if you’re going to the Autoshow, don’t drive. Everyone is out to get your dough. Use mass transit and stretch those midwestern legs a bit.

    • 0 avatar

      Stretching the legs is not the issue with mass transit. The issue with mass transit is the way it wastes its users’ time. No one takes the bus when in a hurry….

      • 0 avatar

        Mass transit in NYC WORKS. It is usually far more efficient than driving or riding in a cab. This is of course possible due to the population density.

        Of course what is STUPID beyond all reason is that there are no high-speed transit links from NYCs airports to Manhattan. It is kind of stupid that it is actually easiest to fly into Newark and take the train in than to fly to either JFK or LaGuardia. You are pretty much taking a cab if you fly into NYC itself. Just did an in-and-out for work last Friday. $110 in cabfare in and out to Lower Manhattan. Not my money, so I don’t care particularly.

        • 0 avatar
          CA Guy

          I fly from LAX into JFK several times a year and often take the JFK Airtrain to Jamaica Station and E train (Express) into Manhattan. At various times it can be as quick or quicker than a taxi or livery service and the price (heavily subsidized, of course) is $7.50. Often not my money either but if I’m not carrying much luggage, I find it efficient and hassle free. Stupid beyond all reason is a light rail line that was designed to bypass LAX, with infrequent bus service between the two.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art on upper Fifth Avenue has a parking garage that allows you to park your own car and enter it as many times as you like. If you only need to park for the day and are willing to take a cab or subway around town, it’s a low-stress way to park safely in NYC, and you have the best museum in the country right there too.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    I’m not sure why anyone is going to build a special “intelligent” garage in which only “intelligent” cars are allowed to park.

    If you are willing to treat the garage as a black box, everything you envision is already available today and is compatible with the car you already have.

    I’ve seen a couple in Germany. And apparently there are some in NYC:

    • 0 avatar

      Good article. I think I counted about 11 companies in the automated parking business listed in the article. A much simpler solution than building it into cars.

  • avatar

    That’s a fantastic idea, Jack. Though I’m paranoid about letting a machine take the wheel while I’m in the car, I’d be perfectly happy to let it putter around on its own among other like-minded machines.

    Maybe the garage’s central brain could send the car some coordinates for a parking space, and it would hibernate there until it had to rearrange itself to allow others to exit. You could probably double the amount of parking spaces in a given garage, not to mention convert other buildings into parking structures that might not otherwise be tolerable for human drivers.

  • avatar

    So I’m trying to imagine rush hour, with literally dozens of drivers looking to drop off and/or pick up their cars while the autopilot creeps slowly around the garage, taking, what, 7-8 minutes per car? Yeah, that’s going to be popular.

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