BMW shows automated valet parking with GPS-less navigation

December 15, 2014 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Orientation in multi-storey car parks is a task that overtaxes the capabilities of typical navigation systems like GPS. BMW has developed a position and environment recognition platform capable of handling such tasks. At CES, the carmaker will demonstrate a research vehicle that finds its way alone even in multi-storey parking garages.

At the entrance of the car park the driver disembarks. Through his smartwatch he instructs the vehicle to find a parking lot and walks away. After his business appointment or shopping spree, he transmits a message to the vehicle and right in the moment when he approaches the car storey exit, the vehicle appears to pick him up: This scenario, dubbed Remote Valet Parking Assistant is what BMW will demonstrate at the upcoming CES in Las Vegas.

In order to make such a scenario possible, the carmaker has developed an innovative sensor platform enabling the vehicle to navigate at the high degree of precision required to drive inside a multi-storey car park with narrow curves, limited space and sudden cross-traffic. The platform utilises four lidar sensors at each corner of the vehicle; these sensors deliver more precise and detailed information about the vehicle's surroundings. In addition, the sensors have to be capable of determining the current storey, which is not possible with satellite-based navigation systems like GPS, besides the fact that inside such buildings GPS signals are not available anyway. While BMW did not go into technical details of its sensor platform, there are combinations of MEMS and barometric pressure sensors available that provide the data required to navigate in such an environment - the MEMS sensor provides longitudinal and transverse motion that are used for dead reckoning, and the pressure sensor provides the information about the altitude which can be used to determine the storey. Interestingly, the platform also makes use of lidar sensors. Until recently these sensors have been said to be too expensive for use in series production, as BMW development manager Werner Huber acknowledged in an interview in October. Nevertheless, BMW apparently bets on new models and / or a lower price level for this kind of sensors. "If you take the potential market entry for this technology into account - which could be around 2020