Maryland startup finds self-parking spot

Posted on

LINTHICUM HEIGHTS, Md. – While others are pursuing the dream of developing autonomous systems that can travel miles and miles along the public highway, Steer, a startup in Maryland technology, has developed a niche for the development of a fully self-steering system that operates on private car parks.

Imagine you arrive at the airport, load baggage on the pavement and then send a vehicle to park instead of spending time searching for a place in the lower part of long-term parking. This is a scenario in which Steer is currently piloting a project at Baltimore-Washington International, Thurgood Marshall Airport in Maryland.

Or imagine that buyers from a shopping center with bags in hand appear, are able to call their own car via an app to pick them up at the entrance.

Although surveys show that almost three quarters of consumers are afraid to drive in a fully self-driving car, betting driver and CEO Anuja Sonalker, they will not mind driving their own car and then sending it away for parking.

Although this is an autonomous level 4, she would rather see that consumers regard this as something that goes beyond the technology itself.

Sales convenience

"What we sell is convenience and convenience is a narcotic," Sonalker said. "In today's time, consumers are very clever about what they want, and today they want to do something more with their time, something better, they want to enjoy an experience instead of wasting time on an everyday activity."

In the United States, drivers spend an average of 17 hours a year looking for parking spaces, according to a 2017 survey conducted by traffic analysis provider Inrix. Those hours cost every driver, the study found, an average of $ 345 in wasted time, fuel and emissions. Depending on the location, this "parking pain", as Inrix calls it, costs much more. New Yorkers spend 107 hours a year looking for a parking space for $ 2,243 per driver.

Would motorists be willing to pay part of that money to save time? That is Steer's thesis. When the business is implemented commercially, it plans to use a subscription model – just like with SiriusXM, Netflix and Spotify – instead of asking potential customers to pay a higher amount in advance. The prices are not yet final.

Steer has signed contracts with two car manufacturers and a major supplier to license its software, starting with 2021 model year vehicles. They came to the heels of a collaboration with Visteon announced this year. The company also intends to sell a self-parking system and to provide direct service to consumers who can install the necessary hardware and software for each vehicle from the 2012 model year onwards.

Potential applications

Although Steer has not attracted attention since its founding in 2016, others start to notice the technology company and consider the possibilities of such park technology.

In April, Steer joined forces with a real estate development company that built a mixed-use housing project in Columbia, Maryland, which one day expects to provide homes for 2,300 residents. Project leaders improve drop-off zones for apartment buildings, with the idea that residents of Steer can be dropped off and picked up there while their vehicles are parked in a nearby garage.

Residents do not arrive until the second half of 2019, but the technology of Steer can already be seen at BWI airport. Airport officials have started a pilot project that allows the company to test in a parking lot and garage next to Terminal 1, a hub of Southwest Airlines.

On a recent morning, the company demonstrated the technology at work with a human safety driver behind the wheel, showing that the technology could detect and respond to obstacles, such as a person pushing a luggage cart over his path.

Next year, the airport will add a zebra crossing from the site and then consider placing other lots with steering function at the airport. Proximity to the terminal is an important factor.

"If you ask them to drop them off in an inconvenient location and take three bags, it is no fun and convenient experience anymore," said Sonalker, former vice president of engineering at TowerSec, a cyber security company in the automotive sector. . "So they want to create a park-and-walk concept that is pedestrian-friendly, you cross over and you're at the airport, you can not get any better."

One of the spearheads in Steer's general business plan is dependence on owners and car park operators to use a development kit to map garages and plots. Owners can adjust drop-off zones and traffic flows as desired to manage curb space and traffic. Sonalker says that a dozen parking operators have already started their plots and expects that by the end of this year 30 extra will be added. But building up a critical mass for the roll-out of the mass market is necessary, so that consumers find their subscription worthwhile.

Many operator incentive

Parking operators and others want to cooperate. Because occupants end at a designated uprising, they no longer need the space to open car doors in a traditional parking box that is 9 feet wide. At least in theory, parking operators can paint narrower berths, squeeze as much as 20 percent more cars into their existing part-prints and add them to their bottom-line.

Government officials may be interested in potential cost savings. Expenditure related to the building of car parks and lots can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and a technology such as Steer's can enable them to fit more cars into existing structures and the need to build new ones at cost. of the taxpayer.

In this sense, the self-driving tech savings within the parking environment provide a glimpse of the broad potential that it offers to improve conditions on existing public roads without adding more infrastructure.

"That's where we are as a country, frankly," said Pete Rahm, MD, MD, Secretary of Transportation and Chairman of the Maryland Transportation Authority, who oversees the airport. "How do we get more out of what we already have? For me, this technology, like Steer's, is a way to do that."