Although the battery range of electric vehicles continues to improve, it's still quite likely that as EVs become more popular, so will their integration into larger transportation networks – in other words, people will drive their electric cars to transfer points such as train stations, instead of making entire long trips solely by driving. With that in mind, the European V-Charge consortium is developing a system whereby users can just step out of their vehicle when they reach a public transit station, leaving the car to head off on its own to find a parking spot.
In order for a car to work in the V-Charge system, it must be equipped with eight onboard cameras of the type already used in parking assistance and emergency braking systems, along with a self-driving system.
Here's how the process works ...
When users first arrive at the station, they get out of their car and use a smartphone app to let the car park's server know that a car needs to be parked. That server then connects with the car, sending it a map to an available parking spot. That map includes a photographic point-by-point layout of the car park – by comparing images in that map with images from its own cameras, the car is able to determine where it is on the route.
Driving themselves, vehicles travel no faster than 10 km/h (6 mph), and automatically brake or maneuver to avoid hitting one another. Additionally, the server chooses routes and parking spots that are optimized to keep traffic flowing smoothly and quickly.
Once parked, cars can top up their batteries at integrated charging stations. When the user returns to the station, they just use the same app to summon the car to come pick them up.
There are already two demo cars using the V-Charge technology in Wolfsburg (Germany) and Zurich, with a third in the works. The system should work in any existing car park, although before it can see widespread use, it still needs to be tweaked in order to deal with unpredictable variables such as pedestrians.
It is hoped that a full-scale V-Charge demo system will be up and running by next September. Beyond that, there's even the possibility that the technology could be adapted to allow cars to park themselves on city streets.