There is nobody inside the Range Rover in a Las Vegas parking lot. But it still makes its way to a parking place, after what looks like some hesitation.
The self-parking is directed by an app that controls the car, detects an available space and maneuvres into it.
The “automated parking valet” created by the French equipment maker Valeo is among the technology innovations for the sector on display at this week's Consumer Electronics Show.
While the idea of a fully autonomous car is a dream for some, this is a step which promises to alleviate at least some of the tedium facing motorists.
The system allows drivers to leave their car at the entrance of a parking lot and let it find a space to park itself. Drivers activate the feature from their smartphone, and can also use it to summon the car to pick them up.
“It’s like a brain.”
Guillaume Devauchelle, a Valeo vice-president presenting the prototype system at the huge electronics expo, said: “It acts step by step, with a certain latitude, to be able to adapt to the situation.
“If it is put in the same position for a second time, it won't react the same way.”
He said the system did not require garages or parking lots to have special equipment; it relied on the types of sensors some cars already used, with some extra electronics.
Devauchelle said the system might also need a camera to recognise and avoid spaces designated for the handicapped or unusual features in a garage.
“We would like to make this available to the largest number of people.”
He said the system was designed to be as simple as possible so that it would not be only for luxury vehicles.
Even as automakers worked on self-driving vehicles, a number of improvements could be made along the way, Devauchelle said, pointing out that the parking valet was not simply a matter of convenience.
It can help avoid the types of collision that are frequent in car-parks and help older people who find it difficult to make parking maneuvres to use their cars more often.
“As you age, turning your head becomes harder, so parallel parking is very difficult.”
“Parking maneuvres, in our estimation, are the most difficult for motorists,” he said.
Valeo said three million cars already had its semi-automatic system, which can perform parallel parking but requires the driver to remain at the wheel.
The company has also developed a system that uses remote control but requires the driver to remain in view of the car or the smartphone screen as a safety precaution.
Devauchelle said the automated parking valet was adapted well for rental car fleets but added that regulations about driver requirements “from the horse and buggy era” need to be reviewed.