Despite what many brands may want you to believe, self-driving technology doesn’t exist in any functional capacity yet — but Mercedes-Benz and Bosch are inching us closer to that goalpost. The two brands are introducing the first-ever SAE Level 4 autonomous technologies that are commercially available for the Average Joe. There’s just one caveat: You can only use that Level 4 technology in one single parking lot.
This specific technology is basically just a fancy form of automated valet parking. Book a parking place in the P6 parking garage at Stuttgart Airport, and you’ll be able to drop off your vehicle and let it park itself when you arrive for your flight. Oh, and you’ll have to have a Mercedes-Benz S Class or EQS made after July 2022 to even have access to that technology to use in that one, single airport parking lot.
The two companies originally received approval for this automated parking concept back in 2019, where certain visitors to the Mercedes-Benz Museum could utilize it. The implementation in the Stuttgart Airport, however, marks the first time that the technology is making a debut in a commercial, public sphere — not just in Merc’s backyard. It’s also the first time this kind of tech has been used publicly since Germany passed a law last July that allows for Level 4 autonomous driving — that means fully sans-human — in very small operating areas.
In terms of physical operation, the whole thing is pretty simple. Bosch has outfitted the parking garage in question with tons of sensors that will aid the car in heading to its destination. When you pull into the valet area, you pop your information into an app and exit the car. It’ll head off and park itself when you’re ready — and when you want to call it back after your trip, you just request its return in your app, and around it’ll come.
This may not be the most glamorous execution of the oft-hyped “autonomous” tech, but it’s the ideal building block. Limiting this parking garage to vehicles that will be parked autonomously removes tons of the unpredictable obstacles you’d normally find, either on the road or in a standard lot. The Mercedes machines in question shouldn’t ever encounter anything surprising — but they’re programmed to make a full stop in they do. And the limited speeds you can use in a parking garage offer a little extra wiggle room to let this tech grow in a massively controlled environment.
Is it romantic? Hell no. But this is what autonomy looks like for the automakers that aren’t, y’know, lying to themselves.