I was in Munich last week, flown out there by BMW, who wanted to show me their new i4 and iX electric vehicles, and possibly get some time alone with me to confess their true feelings, which never happened. I’m not allowed to talk about driving impressions of the cars just yet, but I can tell you about some interesting features of the cars, like a new one that will let you record your possibly complex parking maneuvers and then have the car play them back, freeing you of the hassle of doing it all the time. I think this will be the first commercially-available car to offer anything like this.
I do want to point out that I did sort of predict this type of feature in my book about the coming of autonomous vehicles. I wrote about the possibilities of recording a driver’s inputs and GPS path and then playing them back as a sort of way to store and replay entire drives, which I imagined you might one day be able to download, like custom city tours or road trips.
The scope of the record/playback system BMW has developed is much more limited, intended for just complex parking maneuvers.
For many people, I think the need for this may seem baffling. I know it did to Jalopnik’s own Editor-In-Cheese Rory, who felt it was more of a party trick than anything else.
And, if your regular parking spot at your home is just a turn into a driveway, then, sure, I can see how it wouldn’t make sense. But, that’s not necessarily the case for many people.
I remember once, for the LA Auto Show, rented a house in the city on AirBnB, and it had one of the most maddening parking situations I’d ever encountered. Our press vehicle was an admittedly large SUV, but the process of squeezing it into an incredibly narrow driveway, bounded by unforgiving and paint-wrecking stucco walls, and having to maneuver around metal posts and recycling bins and various cruel, scrapey plants was a nerve-wracking, tedious, slow process.
I’m sure you’d get used to it over time and with practice, but it would never not be an ass-pain, really. For people in these situations, who may have difficult recurring parking setups at home or work, BMW’s solution seems like it could be quite a useful tool.
The way it works is pretty straightforward: you go to the location where you would start your parking process, begin recording, do all of the maneuvering you need to do to park, and save the process.
There’s an (I think) 300 meter/984.25 foot limit on the total recorded driving distance (which hopefully would be enough for most parking places) and the system keeps the speed quite low, so I don’t think you can effectively record a bunch of wild donuts and then a 180 degree whip into a parallel parking space.
The system allows for a 30 cm/almost one foot of slop for the positioning of objects, so if you’re always dodging other parked cars or trash bins or other movable objects, they don’t have to always be in exactly the same location every time, just roughly.
A BMW engineer demonstrated the system to me using a new iX in a parking deck, if you’d like to see how it works:
What I like is how each stored maneuver is tagged with a GPS location, so as you pass locations where you’ve recorded one of these maneuvers, the car lets you know, and lets you pick if you want to execute a recorded parking maneuver.
It’s not perfect, as you can see in that video when one point on the path was just different enough, due to the presence of a parked car that wasn’t there when recorded, that the system stopped playback. It was resumed after the driver adjusted the position.
The car is still using its cameras and sensors to be sure it doesn’t hit anything while it’s parking, but it’s not exactly driving autonomously, because it’s not determining its own path or actions; it’s playing back the actions a driver put in, and just confirming that none of those actions will end up running over a cactus or whatever.
I also thought it was interesting that the BMW engineer felt that if you repainted your house, the camera data will have changed enough to warrant having to re-record the maneuver. It must be relying very heavily on the visual data, in that case.
Maybe Rory’s right, and it’s just a party trick. Even so, it is kind of a cool party trick, and allows you to try things like pre-recording car-dances at vacant lots you may pass by, or letting a well-known driver store an extremely short and slow autocross lap.
The recorded maneuvers are stored based on each driver’s profile, but I believe BMW said the stored maneuvers on the car will be available to all drivers. I don’t think there are currently provisions to transfer or store maneuvers outside of the car, but that could potentially be interesting, if people could share optimal parking maneuvers for known difficult spots, or even just fun car-dance maneuvers online?
Conceptually, I like the unexpected options such capabilities could offer, and I’m really curious to see how this gets used when these so-equipped BMWs get out into the world, or this capability is duplicated by other carmakers.