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Can’t find a spot? Let the car do it. BMW turns an i3 into a valet for CES 2015

At last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, BMW unveiled tech that turns a car into a driving coach. This year, it’s focusing on something a little more practical.

For CES 2015, BMW will unveil its Remote Valet Parking Assistant, a new autonomous system that does exactly what its name says.

Installed in a converted i3 electric car, BMW says the system will allow a car to drive itself into a multi-story garage and park itself without any human intervention.

The driver can dispatch the car with commands from a smartwatch. The car then uses onboard sensors and stored plans for the building to navigate itself to a space while its owner goes on his or her way.

Once parked, the car automatically locks itself and waits for a scheduled pick up time or voice command. The car then estimates how long it will take to reach the meeting point in order to arrive on time.

BMW Remote Valet Parking Assistant

The i3 test car uses four laser scanners to orient itself and detect obstacles. They can also be used at a lower level of automation to automatically brake the i3 with the system feels the human driver is about to hit something. Steering away from an obstacle or changing direction releases the brakes.

BMW notes that this system doesn’t rely on GPS signals, which can get cut off in bunker-like parking garages. So far though, it’s not saying how production cars could be quickly provided with the floor plan for any garage a driver might want to use.

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The Remote Valet Parking Assistant is one of numerous robotic systems proposed by carmakers that are expected to pave the way for fully-autonomous cars.

Volvo unveiled a similar system last year, and Elon Musk claims the upgraded suite of sensors in the revamped Tesla Model S allows for auto parking in the future.

Given that parking-assist systems are already commonplace on production cars, parking could be one of the first realms where the machines secure a beachhead.