While the majority of autonomous vehicle firms we hear about are striving to commercialize robotaxis and self-driving trucks, Steer Tech, a Maryland-based AV technology business, has been laser-focused on providing high-level autonomy for one single use case: automatic parking. The business has secured at least two OEM collaborations to integrate its parking technology as a feature for passenger vehicles, but it’s now pushing beyond that basic idea and into the commercial sector.
The North Central Texas Council of Governments awarded Steer $1.5 million on Thursday to develop a test bed at the Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport that will demonstrate how an automated parking ecosystem could alleviate the high traffic and heavily congested curbside drop-off and pick-up areas at the airport, particularly as air travel and, as a result, the use of ride-hailing services, increases. The pilot will include three subsystems: low-speed vehicle automation for valet parking, supervisory parking management so the DFW system can watch over and regulate all the vehicles in AV mode, and active digital curb management, according to Anuja Sonalker, CEO and creator of Steer.
The pilot will begin with ten test cars — a mix of sedans, SUVs, and maybe vans — equipped with Steer’s AV software and sensor suite, which includes radar, camera, ultrasonics, and precise GPS. “It’s a full experiential system that considers airport stakeholders and passengers – how would the experience be, and how can you make it better for them?” TechCrunch spoke with Sonalker. “The design is usually constructed around what the technology can accomplish in the AV area and in most innovation environments, and everyone has to work around it.” “What we’re attempting to do here is to create an experience in which the airport patron is at the heart of the event.”
In connection with this experiment, Steer is also announcing that it will open source its valet parking APIs so that others, such as OEMs looking into automated valet parking or parking management businesses looking to integrate curbside management, may have real-time access to autonomous car data. This, according to Sonalker, will lead to more interoperability across digital curb management businesses, parking management firms, and OEMs.
“The upside for all of us is that valet parking will go into the next phase of deployment now that there’s an airport here, an actual stakeholder, who’s putting it into their system, and DFW wants interoperability because who wants to be trapped into one sort of system?” Sonalker said. “In order for this system to gain traction, everyone involved must come together and agree on a set of common interoperability standards so that we can create an ecosystem.” It’ll propel us into the next league on the adoption curve, which we want to accelerate.”