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Audi Planning To Test Self-Parking Cars In Boston Suburb

by SowmyaNovember 28, 2015

Audi thinks self-parking cars can dramatically help relieve congestion of a crowded city.That’s precisely why the automaker is working with the busy Boston Suburb of Somerville to introduce self parking cars in 2018.As a part of Audi testing it’s Traffic management initiative.

Today more than half the people on earth live in urban areas. By 2050 that number is projected to reach 66 percent. That’s 2.5 billion or so people squeezing into the world’s cities. Now imagine even 10 percent of those people have a car. That’s another 250,000,000 vehicles.

The world has time to rethink city planning before gridlock becomes truly disastrous. Fortunately, automakers are coming around, and some even consider solving this problem a priority. Audi believes self-parking cars are part of the answer.

In Somerville, Audi will help develop a connected network of traffic lights in the busy Union Square area to reduce congestion. More tantalizing is the rest of the plan: introducing cars that park themselves. Audi is working with a real estate developer to incorporate autonomous car tech in a program meant to drastically reduce the space lost to parking and the congestion caused by people trolling for a spot. In a 2011 study published in Access magazine, UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup found 30 percent of the traffic in a downtown area is simply people looking for parking.

The environmental ramifications are enormous. Shoup cites a 2008 study, conducted in a 15-block span of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, that found each driver spent an average of 3.1 minutes searching for parking space and covered an average distance of .37 miles. Extrapolate those figures, and Shoup says people roaming those 15 blocks alone created 366,000 excess vehicle miles of travel—that’s equivalent to 14 trips around the planet—and added 325 tons of CO2 in one year.

Cars that park themselves help a lot. If your car can leave you at your destination and return for you later, it doesn’t matter where it parks. If it knows there’s a garage with available spots 10 blocks away, it can go straight there, minimizing the time it spends taking up space on the road.

That’s why, come 2018, Audi will deploy a small fleet of cars to see how its piloted parking technology interacts with a garage designed specifically for autonomous cars. With no one getting in and out of the cars, the space needed for each vehicle is reduced by 21 square feet. You need just four inches of space between mirrors on neighboring cars, since they will park themselves with machine-like precision (because they’re machines). No elevators or stairs or pedestrian pathways are needed, either. Audi estimates such a lot could pack 60 percent more vehicles than a conventional garage of the same size.

audi-a7

Phase two is slated for 2020, when the goal is to have a fleet of autonomously parking Audi cars in the area. And by 2030, Audi hopes to make the garage available to the broader market of self-driving cars expected to hit the market by then. “We want to be the first ones to test this and find out what the potential is and to get into context with new business partners. But these are things that need to be open at a certain point,” says Lisa Futing, the initiative’s project manager.

Somerville is a good testing ground, considering Audi tells Boston.com that nearly 30 percent of peak-time traffic in the city is triggered by drivers searching for parking. The combination of the automaker’s self-parking cars and connected city’s traffic lights should help cut into that hassle dramatically.

By lowering the amount of drivers looking for parking spaces, Audi thinks it could ease the flow of traffic from 20 to 50 percent.The residents of Somerville will certainly take that, as will any other packed city that the effort is introduced in.

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