You are driving around and round looking for a spot to park your car. You are already late for work and wish you could just jump out of your car and let it look for a spot on it’s own.

The best news ever, now there’s an app for that. Virtual Valet lets your iPhone tell your car to park without you in it. “You pull up to the kerb, push a button on your smartphone and the car takes care of everything else. Then you tell it to come back whenever you are done.

This great app was created by  researchers at Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

To find its own spot, the system uses a sensor suite similar to ones found in many luxury cars. This includes a motion sensor that scans for moving cars and pedestrians, and a forward-facing laser rangefinder normally found in adaptive cruise control to determine the distance of objects in front of the car. Information from these sensors is then fed to an onboard computer to plot the vehicle’s course. The user can watch the whole process from their phone. It works indoors, outdoors and could even work at your home.

Better still, it will be affordable. The team has spent the last year moving from high-end imaging and processing equipment to less expensive components. In experiments, the vehicle was able to navigate through a crowded parking structure, find an empty spot, and park all on its own. And the greatest appeal of the Virtual Valet Parking App is that it requires no change to existing parking facilities or infrastructure.

For the moment, the only car equipped for control by Virtual Valet is Carnegie Mellon’s modified Jeep Wrangler, which the researchers have named NavLab11.

The research will be presented at Auto Apps and Mobile Device Evolution 2012 this December in Berlin, Germany.


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