- Autonomous parking is closer than ever
- Connected cars are becoming mobile assistants
- Trials in Hamburg for Audi, VW and Porsche future technology
Never mind the last-mile concept of emissions, transport and logistics - Volkswagen group is looking at the last few feet: with a range of connected cars scheduled to begin trials in 2020.
Rather than be reserved for specific high-end or alternative fuel vehicles, the autonomous tech intended to become an option on models across the range of sizes and brands will soon be tested in Hamburg.
Demonstrating a glowing future for those who live and work around their cars - commuters, professional drivers and suburban families alike - there is a vision of cars becoming an extension of the household and the home.
Will cars run errands for us in the future?
The idea that you could ask your Polo to fetch your shopping seems a little far fetched, but VW are heading in that direction. Mobility of Tomorrow is a complex integration of infrastructure and in-car technology, designed to explore not only the autonomous capabilities of self-driving cars, but also the modifications to infrastructure of cities that make it easier for those vehicles to navigate a complex environment safely.
Early development of such impressive capabilities started with the kind of tech you can buy now on a wide range of cars - radar, Lidar and camera-based sensors that can recognise signs and road markings to assess a parking space and automatically reverse in - as well as detecting hazards, applying the brakes before the driver has time to react, plus adaptive cruise control evolutions incuding traffic jam assist on some VW group automobiles.
Building on the location data and connectivity offered by Volkswagen We, trials are already taking place in Berlin to allow deliveries to be made to a customer's car, with a one-time access to the boot.
Amazon could soon be dropping your parcel off in your own car, regardless of location - though this seems feasible only with cities; the idea that logistics firms could co-ordinate the location of a roaming rural driver and a parcel in a wide catchment area is scotched by their frequent inability to deliver to fixed locations such as 'houses'.
However, we naturally anticipate the UK version will involve drones able to find exactly where you are stuck on another closed motorway, able to drop a novel through the sunroof while you wait for the M1 to reopen.
Reading the signs - making the environment suit the car
To help with autonomous parking, Hamburg Airport's multi-story facilities - the sort of situation that adds unwelcome stress after a long drive for many people - are being equipped with special markings to tell the on-board processing how to navigate the car park.
As part of this vision, VW is taking three stages of ability into account. Initial autonomy involves keeping people and cars separated entirely, with autonomous parking via a dedicated carpark and handover bay.
Later development will allow cars to deal with the variability of pedestrians in low-speed, largely predictable environments, before the goal of a fully autonomous driverless car is able to cope with city traffic and interact with service provides.
Park and charge - Porsche's electric valet
Taking this approach a step further, Porsche is developing a robotised solution to both parking the car and recharging.
Using wireless networks and bespoke charging stations with a robotic arm to connect the plug, charger availability will be optimised by allowing the autonomous car to find a charging station, reach a preset capacity, and then locate a parking space - all in the absence of the owner.
Johann Jungwirth, chief digital officer of the Volkswagen group, says: 'Our clear objective is autonomously driving vehicles that facilitate mobility for everyone at the push of a button, and that gives people back time and quality of life as well as greatly improving safety on the roads. Autonomous parking is a milestone on the way there.'
The autonomous parking function demonstrated in public for the first time in Hamburg has already left the research lab. Some initial Volkswagen Group vehicles will be available with this technology from the start of the next decade.
Porsche's forerunner for this level of technology is the Panamera E-Hybrid, which has CO2 emissions of 56g/km and a list price around £87,000 depending on specification. A P11D of £86,264 for the Porsche Panamera 2.9 S E-Hybrid Executive Tiptronic S gives a monthly BIK cost of £230 for 20% taxpayers and £460 for 40% taxpayers.