Ford and Bosch's automated valet parking demonstration. (Photo courtesy of Ford)

In the not-too-distant future, motorists won't have to worry about finding a parking space. They'll leave their car at a drop-off location and the vehicle will park itself in a parking garage.

What's happening: Ford is working with a tech supplier, Bosch, and Bedrock, a Detroit real estate developer, to perfect the system as part of a pilot at a retrofitted garage in Detroit. The companies said it is the first infrastructure-based solution for automated valet parking in the U.S.

Why it matters: Parking is a pain point for drivers in many cities. Automated valet parking is not only a convenience for motorists; it's an efficient space-saver for building owners, allowing them to squeeze up to 20 percent more vehicles into their parking garages.

  • Automated parking is also an important building block for self-driving technology.

What they're saying: "The healthiest, most vibrant cities in the world are not built around parking. They're built around people," says Kevin Bopp, Bedrock's vice president of parking and mobility.

How it works: Upon existing their vehicle, a driver uses their smartphone to tell the car to park itself.

  • In this case, it's the garage's sensors, not the car, that is calling the shots.
  • Lidar sensors on the ground communicate over wifi with the Ford Escape's embedded modem, which issues commands to the steering and braking systems to maneuver the car as needed.
  • The lidar system can detect obstacles, such as a pedestrian or another car, and tell the car to brake as needed.
  • In the future, Bosch expects to replace the expensive lidar sensors with video cameras to perform the same functions.
  • When ready to depart, the driver summons the vehicle again using their smartphone.

Between the lines: Ford says the infrastructure-based system helps keep down costs by requiring less on-board computing in the car.

  • For Bedrock, which owns dozens of office and residential buildings in downtown Detroit, it's a way to address a growing parking problem in the city, which aims to be a leader in mobility technology.
  • It's also a way to introduce wary consumers to the benefits of vehicle automation, adds Bosch North America President Mike Mansuetti.

What to watch: The pilot runs through the end of September, and Ford's Chief Technology Officer Ken Washington would not say when it will be commercially available other than to say automated parking is "a high priority" and "stay tuned."

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