Volvo self-parking concept car acts as your own personal valet

In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recent policy statement on automated vehicles, the group defined five different levels of automation — from “no automation” to “full self-driving automation.” Many of the autonomous advancements car manufacturers will introduce during the next several years will fall between those two extremes, yet they will still represent revolutionary changes to the way we interact with our vehicles.

That is the case with a novel self-parking system recently revealed by Volvo Car Group.

At a media event this week, Volvo will demonstrate a concept car that is able to find an empty parking space and park on its own, essentially providing drivers with a built-in valet parking option. It’s sure to be welcomed by anyone who has ever missed an opening kickoff or the first act of “Les Mis” as they circle the garage looking for the last open spot. Without being fully autonomous, it’s also pretty advanced stuff — NHTSA would probably classify the technology as a Level 3 system, its second highest classification, which encompasses “limited self-driving automation.”

“Autonomous Parking is a concept technology that relieves the driver of the time-consuming task of finding a vacant parking space,” Thomas Broberg, senior safety advisor at Volvo Car Group, said in a statement. “The driver just drops the vehicle off at the entrance to the car park and picks it up in the same place later.”

An animation of the self-parking process is embedded below. Transmitters in the road inform drivers when the service is available and then a phone app is used to initiate the self-parking procedure. Sensors help navigate the car to its destination, and auto-brake technology makes it possible for Volvo’s autonomous vehicles to safely mingle with traditional cars and pedestrians.

This is not the first attempt companies have made to end the headache of parking. Boomerang Systems notably attacks the problem from the opposite angle by building automated parking garages that carry cars to their spaces. Those systems are already available, while Volvo’s self-parking technology remains in the concept phase. However, these technologies are getting tantalizingly close to becoming a reality: Volvo says its new Volvo XC90 will introduce autonomous steering capabilities at the end of 2014.

[ photo and video courtesy of Volvo Car Group ]