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‘I am convinced that it will be standard in some years’ – the future of driverless parking? A Q&A with Walter Schoefer, CEO, Stuttgart Airport

5 min

P6 Parking Garage trial c. Bosch

Stuttgart Airport is at the centre of a new innovative pilot offering an Automated Valet Parking (AVP) service for customers in a bid to find out more about the emerging technology and its variety of uses. But how important is an automated valet for customers? And what potential does this have for the future of aviary travel? Quadrant Transport chats with Walter Schoefer, CEO, Stuttgart Airport, to find out more

Could you give us a little detail as to why Stuttgart Airport was interested in offering itself as a pilot location for the project?

WS: We are proud that Stuttgart Airport has been chosen as the pilot location for the standard use of the AVP system, because the airport sees itself as a showcase for global players in the region such as Bosch, or Mercedes-Benz.

Walter Schoefer, CEO, Stuttgart Airport

In general, we consider new developments as great opportunities, and have been very successful in the past testing the latest innovative solutions relating to electro-mobility. Think of the Cobus 3000, this was a cooperation of Siemens concerning the electrical parts, and Cobus for the bus itself, which was a JV of Daimler and other partners in Portugal. But we have been the testing area of new developments, and now they are very familiar in German airports.

There were other projects like energy management, or building automation, where I think we were one of the leading airports in Europe. And so, I think it’s a good thing to have in a very important infrastructure and industrial branch of our area, of the automotive sector being a partner of these big players.

Preparations are already underway to begin piloting the automated service; the P6 parking garage has been chosen as the pilot location. Why is this?

WS: We were a little bit surprised that the partners were keen on taking the oldest parking garage in Stuttgart Airport, the P6, as a location. On the one hand it’s very close to the terminal building; but, on the other hand, it is an old one. And, from the view of the passengers, it’s good to have it close to the main building, because the drop-off zone is quite close to the gate. Two minutes’ walk, that’s all.

P6 Parking Garage c. Bosch

The P6 Garage opened in the mid-1980s. In those days, cars were much smaller than today. As I’ve said, it’s one of the oldest parking lots, and narrow and winding. You have to be a really good driver to go through without little damages. So, driving and parking is a challenge, even if you are a good driver there.

Our partners, Bosch and Daimler, said if AVP works there in this parking garage, it will work everywhere. So, it is a very special place, with a very special challenge.

Structurally, does anything need to be put in place to accommodate driverless technology in the garage?

WS: We had to install around 150 stereo cameras from Bosch. They can identify vacant parking spaces, they monitor the driving aisle and the surroundings, and they can detect obstacles and people in the aisle.

Cameras used to assist in parking c. Bosch

In addition, a server room was needed, because the camera alone in itself is worthless, but you have install the technical surroundings – the IT infrastructure – and three former parking places were converted to drop-off and pick-up areas.

More spaces will be added when driverless parking becomes standard, and we see there will be an increasing demand in the future.

Some may see this as a peripheral feature of the travel experience not worth the extra cost – how do you ensure that customers look at this as a necessity, not a gimmick?

WS: Airports are part of the aviation business. And airports are always high-tech hotspots in many ways.  There will be a good perspective for Return on Investment – because the installation means that you have to accept as a customer a little higher price. It is a better service, and I think people are willing to pay a little more for a better service. The reason I think that is because airports invest a lot of money in very exclusive lounges for their good customers – and people are willing to sit in such a lounge, paying money for it.

In a very short period of time, there will be phone calls to airports who don’t offer that service and people asking the question: why?

And so, I think when you have this extra feature in your car, the parking assistant, you will want to use it. In a very short period of time, there will be phone calls to airports who don’t offer that service and people asking the question: why? If you don’t do that, why don’t you do that?

I am positive – because it will, as it always does, begin at the bigger airports. It will be not only in Stuttgart: it will be in Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Berlin. It will take some time, yes. But in the long run, I am convinced that it will be standard in some years.