Smart Summon only works when the car is within its master's line of sight. If your Tesla's in a multi-story parking lot, you must get it yourself. Here's how other carmakers plan to one-up Elon Musk.
Sure, Tesla’s Smart Summon might be a gimmick, but other carmakers apparently believe that enabling drivers to beckon a car remotely via smartphone is a cool idea. In fact, they’re scheming ways to one-up Elon Musk.
Daimler and its partner Bosch already have an official go-ahead for a scheme to out-summon Tesla. Meanwhile, a startup called WaveSense has developed a novel technology based on ground radar that automakers can use to create a summoning capability that will work in places where Tesla's Smart Summon won't.
While Smart Summon enables a Tesla to navigate a parking lot and autonomously come when called, the feature only works when the car is within its master’s line of sight. In other words, if your Tesla’s in a multi-story parking lot, you have to get it yourself. Smart Summon can’t always help you summon your Tesla.
Obviously, Smart Summon is an inconsequential feature that has nothing to do with safety. But there is a saving grace. A driver in a big hurry or distracted can forget where the car is parked. In this infrequent case, a car that can find its way to its owner, sparing the hassle of a parking-lot hunt, might prove to be a valued convenience.
On the other hand, any late-model car with a key-fob will honk its horn and flash its lights ’til the driver spots it. So we’re talking about a tiny (but costly) upgrade.
Blog: Is Smart Summon Just Another Gimmick?
In a recent interview with EE Times, Tarik Bolat, CEO of WaveSense, said his company has been actively sought out by “tier ones and car OEMs planning to add Level-4 like ‘automated parking’ features to their Level-2 vehicles.”
As it turns out, a multi-story parking garage’s structure is as confusing to autonomous or ADAS vehicles as it is to us humans. Similarities lurk not just in the floor plan but also in the design of all those identical parking slots. There aren’t enough visual cues, or landmarks, to differentiate one spot from another.
Some tier ones and carmakers are turning to WaveSense now, looking for technologies that can extract accurate latitudinal and longitudinal information for cars in parking facilities. Bolat claims that WaveSense, with a radar technology that penetrates three meters into the ground, is “the only localization platform that reliably localizes a vehicle in parking garages and lots.”
Further, WaveSense technology needs no GPS for automated parking, making it an ideal solution to the parking garage maze.
WaveSense collects ground-penetrating radar (GPR) data of subterranean objects. By combining GPR data with GPS tags, the company has been pitching its unique subterranean maps as an important tool for autonomous vehicles.
Unlike regular surface maps which include landmarks — buildings and geographic features — that can come and go, sub-surface maps can track and map unique subterranean objects that rarely change, adding a whole new dimension of sight to robocars.
But in the last several months, a sharper focus, driven by the growing demand by carmakers, has concentrated on autonomous parking for ADAS cars. Some tier ones and carmakers hope to leverage WaveSense GPR to help ADAS vehicles navigate parking garages.
While Tesla might be first with the commercial rollout of Smart Summon, just to be clear, there are two directions possible for cars to go in; they can not only return to their owners, they can also leave them. Tesla's competitors have been working on vehicles that can also park themselves with no human supervision.
This past summer, Daimler and Bosch were officially given the German government’s OK for an autonomous valet-parking program at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.
According to the companies, the concept of automated valet parking is simple: “Get out of your car, use a smartphone app to tell the car to park, and it drives away with nobody behind the wheel. Summoning your car back is a similarly straightforward process.”
For the auto industry, this marks the first official approval of a fully automated driverless SAE Level 4 parking function. Designation as Level 4 function means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention.
But automated valet parking at the Mercedes-Benz Museum is possible for two reasons. First, it’s an "infrastructure based" technology. Bosch supplies the sensors and communication infrastructure in the parking garage to tell vehicles where to go. Second, Mercedes-Benz supplies vehicles with the proper self-driving equipment.
In short, in this trick, all the commands come from the parking garage, not the vehicle.
Undoubtedly, infrastructure-based control offers car owners a sense of security. Unclear, however, is how much garage owners are willing to spend on what it takes to retrofit their facilities with smart sensing and communication technologies.
In Bolat’s view, that’s where WaveSense comes in. Whether in a wide-space open lot or a multi-level mega-garage, WaveSense technology enables autonomous parking without altering the venue. “Our technology works with any structure,” he said.
How WaveSense’s technology works
WaveSense uses ultra-wide band radar which “sends a pulse of electromagnetic radiation into the ground and measuring reflections that originate from scattering points below the surface,” according to the company. “Reflections occur at the interface between objects that have different electromagnetic properties, such as pipes, roots, and rocks in the surrounding ‘dirt,’” WaveSense explained.
The key element in WaveSense’s radar reflection profiles isn’t necessarily these discrete objects but the natural variations in subterranean geology. Soil layer and ground moisture differences reflect distinctly. These variables, according to the startup, help WaveSense paint “a complete picture of the subsurface environment.”
Level 4 autonomous features for semi-autonomous cars
In recent months, more players in the ADAS market are paying attention to WaveSense, largely for two reasons.
First, its accurate localization feature works well in settings like parking garages. “We are adding ‘Level 4 autonomous features’ to passenger vehicles – which are semi-autonomous,” Bolat said.
Second, WaveSense technology can be also effective in active lane-keeping, Bolat noted. Conventional cameras in ADAS vehicles sometimes struggle to recognize when lane markings have faded or are covered by snow.
What’s worse is that when an ADAS car, unable to discern lane markings, “just shuts itself off,” Bolat said. “That becomes an irritant to some drivers, because the vehicle can no longer offer lane-keeping. This would result in a sharp fall in usage of ADAS features,” said Bolat.
Asked when WaveSense technology is likely to show up in vehicles, Bolat projected some installations the next 18 to 24 months. “Expect to see our technology in passenger vehicles that come to the market in 2023 and 2024.”
While WaveSense technology might be able save garage owners from retrofitting their lots, WaveSense and its partners still have a lot of work to do, however. They must create map databases for metro areas, parking lots and interstate roads, Bolat explained.