The Self-Driving Car's Nose Sneaks Into The Parking Garage's Tent

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

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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2 of 24 comments
  • David42 David42 on Apr 01, 2013

    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.

  • ClutchCarGo ClutchCarGo on Apr 01, 2013

    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.

  • FreedMike I don't know why this dash shocks anyone - the whole "touchscreen uber alles" thing is pure Tesla.
  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.