Corktown development to host automated parking demo led by Ford, Bosch and Bedrock

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Detroit — Imagine parking in a garage — but instead of navigating tight turns, maneuvering into narrow spaces and driving seemingly endless loops to find an available spot, you simply get out of your car, hit a button on an app, and off your vehicle goes to park itself.

That is the future that will one day be possible thanks to self-driving technology that players in the automotive industry are rushing to bring to market. A glimpse of that future will be on display for the next month at the garage of The Assembly, a mixed-use development in Corktown.

There, Ford Motor Co., automotive supplier Bosch and real-estate developer Bedrock will showcase "automated valet parking," in which connected Ford Escape test vehicles will use Bosch infrastructure to demonstrate the ability of vehicles to park themselves — with no assistance from a driver.

Bosch sales manager Jasmina Gokovic portrays a pedestrian on the fall while she crosses the street in front of the parking-experience vehicle as the vehicles systems senses her and slows down.

The demonstration, which runs through the end of September and will be conducted via private events as well as for tenants of The Assembly, was announced Wednesday by executives from the three companies, Mayor Mike Duggan, and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II.

"This technology is part of the biggest disruption the automotive industry has seen since more than 100 years ago, when our founder, Henry Ford, put the world on wheels," said Ken Washington, Ford's chief technology officer.

The announcement comes as automakers accelerate toward an industry being reshaped around electrified, autonomous and connected vehicles. It builds on other recent initiatives aimed at cementing Michigan's status as a leader of the industry, even as the traditional cars that were pioneered here make way for technologically-advanced vehicles. 

Earlier this month, for example, the state announced it plans to build a first-in-the-nation connected and autonomous vehicle corridor that would stretch from downtown Detroit to Ann Arbor.  

Several lidar sensors map the garage acting like the parking-experience vehicle's eyes so it can park autonomously.

The project also underscores Ford's vision of the Corktown neighborhood — where the Dearborn automaker is establishing a campus in and around the former Michigan Central Depot — as a hub for mobility initiatives. Ford has committed to investing $4 billion on its autonomous-vehicle business through 2023, and is currently test driving vehicles, equipped with a self-driving platform developed by Argo AI, in six cities, with plans to launch self-driving services in three of them in 2022.

"We have been in a battle between Detroit and Silicon Valley (for) the future of automated vehicles," said Duggan. "We know we're in competition for the young talent. ... With this kind of feature, it's just one more message that the city of Detroit is the place where the future of mobility is going to be developed."

How it works

The demonstration is Bosch's first automated valet parking installation in North America (Bosch offered the same demo in Stuttgart, Germany). It will display the possibilities presented by infrastructure-based autonomous driving, which means the ability to self-park relies not only on technology built into the vehicle but also on equipment in the parking structure. 

Bosch has outfitted The Assembly's garage with LiDAR sensors that communicate with a server that sends instructions to the vehicle via WiFi. The infrastructure has the ability to stop or slow the vehicle if a hazard, such as a passing pedestrian or an object obstructing the vehicle's path is detected.

In demonstrations provided to journalists this week, for example, the vehicle immediately stopped when a ball rolled in its path, when it detected that a drinking glass was behind it, and when a pedestrian walked in front of it.

Bosch sales manager Jasmina Gokovic throws a ball in the path of the parking-experience vehicle as the vehicles systems senses the ball and comes to a stop.

For users, the parking experience would be controlled via a mobile app. 

"You arrive at a garage and by using an app, a few key taps, your car parks itself," explained Kevin Bopp, vice president of parking and mobility at Bedrock. "It can pull into a space that's EV-equipped for charging. It might take it to a location that is ideal for your personal needs, whether it's closer to an elevator or stairwell, or to an oversized vehicle space. ... You're getting out at the ground level and going about your day, and the car does the rest of it."

For Bedrock, the technology is beneficial because it would allow commercial real-estate developers to maximize square footage. Project leaders say automated valet parking can allow for the accommodation of up to 20% more vehicles, because developers don't have to leave space for drivers and passengers to open car doors in the parking spot. 

"You're generating incredible value for the city," Bopp said, "because more space is available for the things that really matter most."

As for when this technology will be available to consumers, that's still unknown. The demonstration is a way for Ford and Bosch to get feedback on, and then refine, the technology before bringing it to market.

"The technology is not yet production-ready," said Washington. "But ... bringing automated valet parking of more than one type is squarely on our high-priority roadmap, because we're very focused on bringing better experiences to both our retail and commercial-vehicle customers."

Twitter: @JGrzelewski