Volkswagen wants to put valets out of business
V-Charge is an ambitious project that will enable a car to find and pull into a free parking bay, recharge its electric motor and then automatically vacate the space when another electric car needs a recharge.
The 'V' in V-Charge stands for Valet and that's because it's the benchmark towards which Volkswagen and its partners -- Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Braunschweig Technical University, Robert Bosch GmbH, Parma University, and Oxford University -- are working.
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A driver will be able to simply pull up outside a parking structure, activate the system via the smartphone app and go on his or own way. Just like throwing the keys to the valet outside a hotel or restaurant.
The European Union-backed project is already in a very advanced stage. Although each of the partners is working on a very specific piece of the technological puzzle -- for example Braunschweig Technical University is developing the car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication systems so that vehicles can recognize obstacles and so that the parking structures can inform cars where free spaces are located -- much has already been achieved with the technology already available on the latest-generation cars.
As such a version of V-Charge is functional today that enables a car to park with accuracy rates of 1cm and to navigate to and from a space while also avoiding other cars and pedestrians.
Parking is one of the most stressful and time-consuming elements of car ownership and therefore ripe for an overhaul. And as car companies move further towards goals of autonomous driving, the first breakthroughs that become features on real-world, mass-market vehicles will be in this area. Parking structures, be they city center multi-storey lots or the owner's home garage are not on the public highway and therefore legislation doesn't need to change to allow these cars to drive themselves in these very specific situations.
The trend has already started. For instance a Tesla Model S can now be remotely summoned and remotely parked as long as the garage is off the road, and the new BMW 7 Series, unveiled in June has a smart key that serves as a remote parking tool, allowing the driver to exit the vehicle before it pulls into or out of a space.
The speed at which V-Charge can roll out once perfected will be governed by how quickly and cost effectively parking structures can be adapted to communicate with vehicles regarding layout and vacant parking bays.