I Can Upgrade my Existing Car to “Park Itself”


I Can Upgrade my Existing Car to “Park Itself”

Sure, I saw the commercial on the Super Bowl where the car parked itself, but I don’t want to have to rush out and buy a Hyundai. I have a perfectly fine 2018 Toyota. But those self-parking features looked great!

Enter Dr. Anuja Sonalker, CEO of STEER Tech, a Maryland based company that supplies aftermarket add-ons that can turn most existing cars, those built after 2014, into self-parking wonders. And all for an affordable price. 

The system enables the vehicle to ‘learn’ about its surroundings and self-park in most any lot or structure.

While automakers and tech companies are spending billions to create fully autonomous vehicles, Sonalker, in an interview with Forbes magazine, says it dawned on her, during the course of her previous work, that today’s vehicles have so much technology already built-in, it’s not necessary to start from scratch to imbue them with at least some level of autonomy not included in automated driver assist systems (ADAS).

“The philosophy is I could take an existing stock vehicle, with existing sensors built for ADAS systems, add just incrementally what’s required in order to make this an automated function—low-speed driving, parking in parking lots,” she told Parking Today.

The system enables the vehicle to ‘learn’ about its surroundings and self-park in most any lot or structure. STEER Tech has mapped numerous locations in the Baltimore-Washington DC area and makes those facilities available through its cloud-based system. “If your parking facility isn’t available, you can map it yourself, and then the knowledge about that location will remain with your vehicle.”

Consider the benefits, not only in convenience and time savings to the driver, but also to the parking facility owner. The driver can be dropped off in front of his or her destination and when the car is needed, call it on their smart phone app, supplied by STEER Tech. 

The parking operator can attract parkers by pre-mapping their garages into STEER Tech’s database. The app will notify the driver when it nears such garages. Plus, the operator can preprogram the system to park the cars in underused areas of their facility, and because the cars don’t have to be spaced for door opening, enjoy up to a 20 percent increase in the number of vehicles that can park in the garage. 

The system includes a ‘self-parking’ feature that allows the driver to drive into a garage and then self-park the vehicle in spaces that would otherwise be unavailable (too narrow to allow the driver or passenger to exit the car). 

In addition, the owner can preprogram their vehicle to park in their garage at home, opening and closing compatible garage doors and shutting down when parked. This is extremely attractive in climates where heat or cold make walking to the garage uncomfortable or inconvenient.

“We are working with parking reservation companies and PARCS manufacturers to ensure we can provide the ability to collect parking fees automatically when the vehicle self-parks,” Sonalker said. “If the vehicle is parked in a facility where it has monthly contract access, we can communicate that information to the system controlling access to the garage.” 

Several airports throughout the country have now started specifying STEER Tech’s system in their future parking operations bids. STEER Tech is teaming up with several national parking operators as a result. BWI Airport was the first airport to include STEER Tech in its commercial contract bids. 

“Scaling these operations is a massive effort. Our job is to provide the technology. Parking operators benefit from the additional space efficiency, new revenue stream and streamlined cost effective operations. Airports benefit from better consumer experiences.”

Another key element of the STEER Tech valet feature with the L4 system, Sonalker told Forbes, is its network. Businesses or individuals who want to designate particular parking spaces register them on the STEER Tech network. Consumers pay a flat monthly fee of about $20 a month if they use the valet service. The fee for fleets is based on the number of vehicles. 

For consumers, the L4 system is now available at a rock bottom, what Sonalker calls an “introductory” price of $1,200 in order to “feed the market.” It’s being offered initially in the Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C. area and then nationally. “I want to educate. I want people to use it, experience it,” said Sonalker. After all, she points out, when it comes to driving, parking is “the most frustrating part of the journey.”

John Van Horn is editor of Parking Today. He can be reached at jvh@parkingtoday.com.

Article contributed by:
John Van Horn
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