In the rapidly expanding autonomous vehicle (AV) industry, we are seeing a couple of trends.
First, every AV company understands that they live and die by their safety record. Every single accident involving a self-driving car could massively damage not only the reputation of the company but that of the entire industry. Companies across the country are focusing heavily on safety, with programs like the AV Test Initiative bringing states, industry leaders, and the federal government together on how to responsibly test and demonstrate the safety of AVs. Safety will always be a unifying goal with shared metrics of what makes a self-driving car safe for public use.
The second trend, however, is far less unifying. Leading AV companies like Tesla, Waymo, Comm.ai, and more are swinging for the fences with their technology. Companies like these want their cars to be able to drive in every condition, with many starting on the highways. Tesla is leading the charge on this front, with its Autopilot feature racking up the highway miles.
These companies are missing the point though. There are two benefits to a self-driving car:
They are safer than human drivers.
They save people time.
With everyone working toward the same safety goals, the competitive advantage shows up in how much time a self-driving car really saves the user. It is nice to test AVs on the highway, the conditions are much more predictable than city driving, but the time savings don’t add up as much there. The user is still sitting in their car, maybe multitasking, but some of their attention is required to ensure the safe operation of the vehicle.
To stand out from the crowd, AV companies need to employ their technology in ways that completely free the user from the task. The industry is a few years off from reliable driving in cities, given the variables of the environment, but parking lots offer an enticing opportunity.
While parking lots are more complex than straight highway driving, there are far fewer hazards than on a city street. Plus, automating the parking process is a tangible time saver for the user. Some companies are dipping their toes in the water, Hyundai and Tesla most notably, but both offer limited advantages. Hyundai’s Smart Park takes away the stress of scraping a door on another car, but still requires the user to find the spot and walk to their destination from there. The time savings are minimal in the end. Tesla’s feature also requires the user to stay with the car for the parking process and multiple users have reported unreliability of the cars detecting spots correctly and performing as intended.
One company, however, is taking big strides forward, choosing to focus almost entirely on the self-parking challenge. STEER Tech, a Maryland based start-up, is conducting public road tests of their STEER Kit. The STEER Kit is retrofitted onto existing cars, meaning that users don’t have to buy a specific brand of car to access the technology. The STEER Kit is capable of not only the pull-out/back-in parking assist that Hyundai and Tesla offer, but a complete automated valet service. A user can exit the vehicle at a drop-off point in front of their destination and then direct the car via the STEER app to find an available parking spot and park itself.
This technology is where users can see real time savings. Many commuters can spend upwards of 20 minutes a day parking their car and walking to and from it. Added up over a year, that becomes 40+ hours of time wasted. With a STEER enabled car, users can gain all of that time back, free to do with it as they please.
As the AV market heats up, keep an eye out for the companies that are fulfilling both benefits of self-driving cars. They are all working toward a safe future, STEER included, but how many can claim to offer the most time savings? That list is certainly more narrow.
If you want to learn more about self-parking and STEER Tech, you can follow the company on all major social media platforms and contact them via their website.
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