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Special Interview Automated Valet Parking will Change Japan’s Cities

 

By the way, what exactly is Level 3 in parking assistance technology?

Aiming to Achieve Level 4 with Automated Valet Parking

Mr. Ishiguro:

Actually, we’re aiming for Level 4 rather than Level 3 in parking assistance. Our system is called “Automated Valet Parking”, and you can imagine it as an automatic version of the valet parking available at hotels: you leave your car with the valet, he parks it, and then he brings it around whenever you want to go out. The Automated Valet Parking we’re working on right now achieves Level 4 within the limited space of a parking lot, where we can control infrastructure, which makes up for the car’s vulnerabilities.

Prof. Doi:

It seems that full automated driving requires not just the car itself, but urban planning and infrastructure preparations. By the way, why are you focusing on developing parking assistance?

Mr. Ishiguro:

We’ve received a lot of feedback from users who say they’re not good at parking. Even among car enthusiasts, not many enjoy parking. Me neither (laughs). But parking is an inevitable part of driving. That’s why we included the world’s first parking assistance system, the Intelligent Parking Assist, in the mass-produced Prius in 2003.

Prof. Doi:

You’ve been working on this since 2003 – that’s quite early. What was it like?

Mr. Ishiguro:

The camera detected the white lines in the parking lot, and the computer calculated how to turn the steering wheel according to them and steered automatically. However, it was originally a bit hard to use, and drivers became frustrated because the settings took time, so some of them stopped using it. Then we improved usability by including image recognition to streamline operation, and a forward guidance feature that uses side mirror cameras and an ultrasonic sensor, rather than only detecting the white lines with the rear camera.

Prof. Doi:

How has the latest model evolved?

Mr. Ishiguro:

Intelligent Parking Assist is now on Version 2. In addition to parking zone lines, it can also recognize space between vehicles, allowing parking even without the white lines.

Professor Kenji Doi

Three Types of Movement from the Perspective of Urban Planning

Prof. Doi:

Right. So your parking assistance system has progressed to Level 2, and next you’re aiming for Level 4. Examining automated driving in my research theme of urban planning, there are three types of movement based on difference in distance. The first is movement between two large cities, for example on highways. The second is movement between core hubs within a large city, for example on major thoroughfares. And the third is movement within a hub. The most important location in this movement within a hub is the “last mile” (final process to reach a delivery destination in logistics, approximately 1.6 km), or the “first mile”. I think automated driving should be specialized for these. Creating automated driving technology that works for all three spatial levels may still be decades ahead of us.

Mr. Ishiguro:

Our R&D specializes in the last part of that last mile. If we can achieve Automated Valet Parking, broadening its range will naturally automate the last mile.

Prof. Doi:

Exactly. Japan is facing an aging society and depopulation, and with a decreasing population, one of the government’s major policies is to make cities more compact. For example, there’s discussion that people living in the Nagoya suburbs will need to consolidate into the city center.

Mr. Ishiguro:

I had heard about that in Yubari, Hokkaido, but I didn’t know it was happening in Nagoya too.

Prof. Doi:

Yes. And that means that sharing will become popular, rather than everyone owning individual cars and parking spaces to get around. Car sharing and ride sharing will expand, and people will share parking lots, road spaces, and more. As the concept of shared spaces emerges, all car-related spaces will become sharable. Worldwide, Japan is the only country with a Garage Law that requires you to have a parking space to buy a car. In Europe, it’s common to park on the street, with certain restrictions.

Mr. Ishiguro:

Right, street parking is legal in Europe. And people there are great at parallel parking.

Prof. Doi:

As a measure to prevent excessive influx of cars to urban centers, they have adopted systems like park-and-ride and road pricing to restrict numbers. Japan hasn’t made a strong effort to do that, so there are a lot of parking lots in the city. Viewing a Japanese city from above, 30% is roads, and 20-30% is parking lots, meaning that cars take up as much as 60% of the space. Japan’s next challenge is how to efficiently transform that into spaces for people. Reducing the number of parking lots in urban areas and allowing cars to enter and exit as efficiently as possible is an important part of future urban planning.

The Goal is to Reduce Parking Spaces by 20% and Achieve 0 Accidents

Mr. Ishiguro:

Our Automated Valet Parking is a perfect match for that challenge. Right now we’re pursuing technology to park in smaller spaces. Current public parking lots require a width of 2.5 to 3 meters per parked car. To make a simplistic calculation, reducing this by just 20% would mean that a 100-car parking lot could hold 120 cars. We have evolved our image recognition and ultrasonic sensor obstacle recognition technology for some time, so parking in narrow spaces is one of our specialties, and we can eliminate accidents with Automated Valet Parking.

Prof. Doi:

I see. So you’re developing technologies to efficiently use narrow spaces.

Mr. Ishiguro:

In automated driving, people tend to focus on technologies to drive fast on highways, which have a lane width of about 3.5 meters. Our specialty is parking situations and achieving precise control on a centimeter scale. We’re confident that this technology stands out from our competitors, and we hope to find opportunities to make the fullest use of it.

 

What conditions are needed in the car and parking lot to achieve Level 4?

Mr. Ishiguro:

Level 4 means that the system must guarantee safety, so this is difficult in conventional parking lots, which anyone can enter freely. And performing this exclusively using the car requires an extremely sophisticated system – which might be acceptable for luxury cars, but we want to achieve this with mass-market models. So we want to achieve Level 4 as quickly and affordably as possible by using available camera and ultrasonic sensor technology for an inexpensive system, combined with some ingenuity on the parking lot side as well.

 

So it would be difficult to achieve Level 4 in the same environment as regular cars?

Mr. Ishiguro:

I think it would be realistic to provide dedicated parking lots or areas for this in the early 2020s.