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Autoware AVP demo was Successful!

Two years ago Parkopedia joined the Autoware Foundation as a founding member. With that short space of time all the necessary software for a full-scale AVP demo has been developed and tested. Automated Valet Parking (AVP) is the ability of a vehicle to park itself and to return to the driver when summoned.

The Autoware AVP was a complete success! Parkopedia is proud to have supplied the map of the AutonomouStuff car park in San Jose, CA where the demonstration took place. Parkopedia also supplied the path planning software that plans the route the vehicle will travel. In this case from the drop-off zone to the desired parking spot and back to the pick-up zone.

This is further confirmation that Parkopedia’s high definition digital maps are indeed suitable for navigation of automated vehicles inside car parks.

AutonomouStuff car park map in OpenStreetMap format

As Dejan Pangercic writes; “The demonstration itself was the culmination of a week of intense effort from contributors around the world, working around the clock to put the finishing touches on the low-speed maneuvers needed to accomplish the park and retrieve functions. The flawless performance highlights the engineering quality built into the ground-up design of the open-source Autoware.Auto software stack, intended to serve as a strong starting point for companies developing autonomous systems for commercial, mission-critical, or safety-critical uses.”

Congratulations to the entire Autoware team for all the hard work that has paid off handsomely!

Demonstrating Automated Parking with Park and Summon functions

The Autonomous Valet Parking (AVP) project is a 30 month project funded by InnovateUK and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. It is scheduled to finish on 31 October 2020.

With more than three-quarters of the project timeline having passed, we are proud to say that we feel on track to achieve the project objectives within the allocated project time allowance, even with the current additional challenges of COVID-19 self-isolation restrictions.

Over the 5 objectives, the current status is as follows:

  1. Develop automotive-grade indoor parking maps required for autonomous vehicles to localise and navigate within a multi-storey car park. Parkopedia believes this map-based approach is the best way to achieve global scale for the roll-out of an Automated Valet Parking feature, which is likely to be the first SAE level 4 feature. This goal is 100% achieved, as Parkopedia has collected data in a number of car parks around Europe and is creating an inventory of maps to be able to supply to customers. Some of these maps have been made available to the research community under a Creative Commons license.
  2. Develop the associated localisation algorithms, targeting a minimal sensor set of cameras, ultrasonic sensors and inertial measurement units, that make best use of these maps. We have agreed to use Artificial Landmarks in the final demo for the project, and toward that effort this goal is 95% complete. Details about Artificial Landmarks and how they can be used for localisation are available in this blog post. For the remainder of the project the research effort will be directed towards localising with natural landmarks which is a much more difficult problem.
  3. Demonstrate this self-parking technology in a variety of car parks. This is well underway, and the outstanding work items now exclusively relate to integration with the map and localisation algorithm. Great care is taken to account for car park ramps, as by necessity, the low concrete walls are at their closest to the car at this moment. These ramps are considered to be the point of greatest risk as the localisation methods have to work extra hard when moving between floor levels. Also, the vehicle control algorithms need to account for gravitational acceleration of the car down the slope, and slowing it on the up-slope. After a lot of testing in simulation and more than 250 hours of in-car testing, we are pleased to have overcome this challenge, which you can see in action in the video below.
  4. Develop the safety case and prepare for in-car-park trials. Safety documents to cover the testing thus far have been published. A final document to cover demonstrations with large numbers of people is the last item outstanding. We have secured initial agreement for a final demonstration in a different car park to showcase the functionality.
  5. Engage with stakeholders to evaluate perceptions around AVP technology. We have engaged with the wider public around this technology and the results have been published.

The project recently held the 7th (of 10) quarterly review meetings where demonstrated the vehicle’s capabilities to the project steering committee and stakeholders.

The outstanding work items now exclusively relate to integration with the map and localisation algorithm, but we are confident of completing the project on time with our objective achieved. We are looking forward to the day this feature is available in a production vehicle!

Car driver and stakeholder research

Connected Places Catapult (CPC) have conducted research with UK car drivers and stakeholders to better understand public and industry readiness for autonomous valet parking (AVP).

The key questions guiding the research were:

  • What are the key parking pain points that can be resolved by AVP?
  • What are other likely benefits of AVP to users and parking stakeholders?
  • What are the key barriers to AVP deployment and uptake, from a social and behavioural point of view?
  • What will be the likely impact of AVP, on the environment, the economy, and the parking industry?

The report produced details the findings, conclusions and recommendations from a suite of research activities:

  • A literature review to explore existing knowledge about the chosen research topics and questions;
  • Stakeholder interviews with parking professionals and OEMs to explore their views of AVP;
  • Focus group interviews to explore the needs and attitudes of drivers in-depth; and
  • A UK wide survey of 1025 car drivers to examine differences between user groups, and to gauge how common certain attitudes or needs are.

The research found that car drivers would be more receptive to the car taking control in a car park than on the roads and a technology solution that can reduce the stress of parking and make parking easier would be appealing. One in five drivers would like to use AVP now with a further 40% open to the idea but wanting to know more about it. Likely early adopters would be younger male drivers and those who have previously used driver assistance technology or have previously used a valet parking service.

Please see the full report of the research here.

Why Autonomous Valet Parking?

Why Autonomous Valet Parking, not robo-taxis, will lead the adoption in self-driving technology

Looking back on 2018, the press have reported it to be the year when the hype around self-driving “came crashing down” with the first driverless fatality in March 2018. The first driverless taxi service was rolled out but it didn’t quite have the impact that the industry was expecting.

Research on self-driving cars has been continuing for more than 30 years, starting with the pioneering work by Ernst Dickmanns on the PROMETHEUS project. A lot of work has taken place since then and is still ongoing, but the question remains: why has the problem of self-driving still not been solved in 30 years?

In a sense, the problem has been solved and autonomous driving is already here.  Heathrow pods, Greenwich pods, Easymile, May Mobility are live now, and many others are already in production.  What sets these simpler systems apart from the systems being developed by Cruise, Argo, Aptiv, Waymo, Uber, Aurora, Lyft, FiveAI and others, is that the environments into which they are deployed are constrained in some way.  

The biggest challenge faced by the developers of general purpose self-driving technology is the requirement to handle complex environments with unpredictable interactions. Waymo’s director of engineering recently summarised the challenge by saying that the final 10% of technology development is requiring 10x the effort required for the first 90%.  Where the environment is simpler or constrained, then self-driving technology reduces to that of autonomous mobile robots like the kiva.

A more realistic approach to deploying self-driving is therefore needed. The two major places where self-driving car technology are likely to be deployed are on motorways – constrained environments with very strict rules, limitations on cyclists and pedestrians – and low speed restricted environments like retirement villages and car parks.

Autonomous Valet Parking (AVP)

Parking is one of the most important challenges for a traveller, with a parking pain point experienced on 12% of UK journeys (19% in London); the average driver spends 6.45 mins looking for a parking space during each journey. With nearly 1 in 5 journeys already experiencing problem finding a space, AVP represents a way of solving not only the current parking pain point, but also improving the overall parking experience for the other 81% of drivers. BCG’s 2015 report showed that 67% of drivers are interested in “capabilities such as automated searching for parking spots and autonomous valet parking”. Bosch’s 2017 study found that two thirds of consumers want an automated parking feature.

A study by Allensbach in 2016 asking the question “When would you want a driver assistance feature to take over for you?” overwhelmingly showed parking as the most desirable feature.

When German consumers were asked by Bitkom in 2016 when they would be willing to hand over control to the vehicle, the answer similarly was for parking.

The idea of Autonomous Valet Parking is to mimic the Valet function available in selected car parks.  After driving to a suitable drop-off location at or near the entrance of the car park, and similar to handing the keys to a valet, the driver presses the “PARK” button on a specially designed app.  The car then drives off under autonomous control and finds a suitable place to park. When the driver wants the vehicle back, they will press “SUMMON” and the vehicle will navigate to the pick-up zone.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) classifies this as a Level 4 feature, in that it provides total automation under specific circumstances.

Based on publicly available information, almost all premium OEMs (Daimler, Audi, JLR, VW, BMW) are working on AVP pilot projects . The reason this feature is so desirable is that it:

  1. Improves the parking experience by allowing drivers to be dropped off at a convenient location (e.g. at the entrance of the car park closest to the desired location such as shops or food court), avoiding the inconvenience and stress of having to find a parking space.
  2. Utilises parking spaces more efficiently by tighter/double parking of autonomous cars, and optimally distributing these vehicles within the available parking real estate.
  3. Avoids unnecessary congestion and pollution through real-time dissemination of parking space availability to the connected autonomous cars.

In addition to the economic benefits, there are clear social and environmental benefits. Driving around looking for parking causes stress and frustration, costs, wasted time, missed appointments, accidents and congestion, noise pollution and CO2 emissions. IBM’s parking survey found that in addition to the typical traffic congestion caused by daily commutes and gridlock from construction and accidents, it is estimated that over 30 percent of traffic in a city is caused by drivers searching for a parking space. By reducing the need to circle looking for a space, AVP has the potential to significantly reduce unnecessary congestion and pollution.

With space at a premium in busy city centres, vehicles equipped with AVP technology could make use of the less desirable spaces that are further from the entrance, freeing up parking spaces closer to a desired destination for those without the technology.

In addition to the economic, social and environmental benefits to AVP, there are also some technical reasons why it is a good candidate feature for large scale public rollout.

1) low speeds mean much lower risk of damage to people, cars and infrastructure.

2) a constrained environment means that the complexity of interactions with other actors has the potential to be significantly reduced.  

3) the cost of the required sensor suite and hardware platforms is lower because of the reduced risk and lower speeds.

Conclusion

This consortium’s key objective is to identify obstacles to the full deployment of AVP through the development of a technology demonstrator. It aims to achieve this goal by

  1. Developing automotive-grade indoor parking maps, required for autonomous vehicles to localise and navigate within a multi-storey car park.
  2. Developing the associated localisation algorithms – targeting a minimal sensor set of cameras, ultrasonic sensors and inertial measurement units – that make best use of these maps.
  3. Demonstrating this self-parking technology in a variety of car parks.
  4. Developing the safety case and preparing for in-car-park trials.
  5. Engaging with stakeholders to evaluate perceptions around AVP technology.

Autonomous Valet Parking is a low cost, low risk and high reward feature that consumers want.  It makes sense then to expect that this feature will be the first fully autonomous feature (at level 4 or 5) available to the general public.  Through Parkopedia’s autonomous valet parking project, we are actively working to make that desire a reality.

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