Photo/IllutrationA car parks itself with the help of a control system in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. Although a person is at the wheel in the demonstration, the technology will allow for fully automated parking in the future. (Satoshi Kimura)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

At the parking lot of the Decks Tokyo Beach commercial complex in Tokyo's Odaiba district, a shopper stops a vehicle near the entrance.

With the push of a "park" button on the app screen of a smartphone, the car begins moving.

Although an official of the Japan Automobile Research Institute (JARI) is at the wheel to ensure safety in the event of an emergency, the car drives along slowly on its own. It backs into a vacant space in the parking area with the driver never manipulating the wheel.

Assuming a scenario where the shopper finishes shopping, the vehicle then automatically returns to the entrance at the push of the “pick-up” button on the app.

The automated valet parking system technology is expected to eliminate the difficulties in finding empty spaces in large parking lots of shopping malls and elsewhere. It would allow motorists to enjoy shopping more conveniently and efficiently.

It would also remove the annoyance of having entrances and exits from commercial and other facilities that are typically far from their parking spaces.

However, the new technology requires three elements: self-driving cars; parking lots with cameras, sensors and other devices; and control centers to gather data on vehicles and parking areas to efficiently guide vehicles.

Because drivers are prohibited from entering parking lots under the system, spaces to open doors do not need to be secured, reducing the area necessary to park a car. That means 20 percent more cars can be parked, according to JARI officials.

The government is providing support for the project for the system to be put to practical use in the early 2020s.

As the self-operating technology covers only parking spaces, the automated valet parking system is anticipated to spread earlier than the introduction of fully automated vehicles on public roads.

Under the plan, the system will be adopted first at tourist facilities for rental cars and not for personal vehicles.

While the development of the technology is also being conducted overseas, Tokyo is looking to develop international standards for the system on its own.

Although the technology will also be adaptable to apartments, medical centers, hotels and elsewhere, challenges are whether the use of self-driving vehicles will spread and how dedicated parking areas can be introduced at those facilities.

Parking lot operators need to bear part of costs to introduce the system, so the benefits they can receive is key to popularizing the technology.

“We hope companies will realize the convenience of the system through our experiment and actively join the program,” said Hiroshi Tanigawa, head of the JARI’s ITS research division.