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VW is conducting autonomous-parking trials at the Hamburg airport (Photo: VW)

Autonomous parking will be available in series-production vehicles as of 2020, the Volkswagen Group has announced, following trials now underway at Hamburg Airport.

In this program, Volkswagen, Porsche and Audi vehicles are self-navigating to spaces in the airport’s multi-storey car park, using a digital map plus simple pictorial markers in the building to aid orientation. These cars are equipped with an active surroundings recognition system, underpinned by sensors including radar, ultrasound and camera technologies, Data is processed in a central control unit in the car itself.

In the first stage of introducing autonomy, the parking system can only be used in selected, mapped multi-storey car parks in designated areas with exclusive traffic flow, and which are not accessible to people.

Supplementary services are being demonstrated in this pilot trial, including the Volkswagen ‘We Deliver,' in which couriers can be directed to a parked car’s trunk and given one-time digital access to deliver (and later, collect) a parcel, and Porsche’s Park & Charge, for automatic and robotized recharging of electric and plug-in hybrid models.

The VW Group's premium brand Audi is trialling ‘AI Zones’, or designated areas in which an automated car can take itself to a car wash, filling station or other service facilities – including picking up personal items from a laundry service – and then repark.

“Our clear objective is autonomously driving vehicles that facilitate mobility for everyone at the touch of a button,” says Volkswagen chief digital officer Johann Jungwirth. “That gives people back time and quality of life, as well as greatly improving safety on the roads. Autonomous parking is a milestone on the way there.”

Humans still on the agenda

Nonetheless, services which involve a driver are still very much on the Volkswagen Group’s agenda: the Škoda Auto DigiLab has recently outlined a very human-centred pilot project taking place in Munich.

The CareDriver trial combines mobility and social services for children, the elderly and disabled people, bringing supported transport via an app or phone booking. Accessible vehicles or those with specialist equipment can be provided as necessary, and the drivers are specifically-trained and qualified; payment is via credit card or PayPal.

CareDriver has been created for Škoda by start-up builder Creative Dock, and is managed by a dedicated team. CEO Markus Feichtinger notes that in the first year of operation, its largest customer group is parents: “Our drivers don’t simply bring the kids from point A to point B – they personally pick up their charges at daycare or school and bring them to piano lessons or sports, from hand to hand.”

Rides are planned and booked some days in advance - short-notice pick-ups are not currently offered – “we can’t be compared to a traditional taxi company or Uber,” Feichtinger says. “The big difference: 98 pc of our customers are return customers who have a clearly-defined need for mobility and care services on a weekly basis.”

Feichtinger sees great potential in the health sector: “We are increasingly working together with health insurance companies, retirement homes and hospitals,” he says, and points out that in contrast to current transport offerings in this sector, “people want more individual trips… A person with dementia needs his own space and a personal relationship with his driver.”

- By Farah Alkhalisi