About rental cars that park themselves
Large fleets of rental cars, for example at international airports, easily have over a hundred vehicles at one location. With fleets of these sizes, the so-called turnaround of the vehicles, i.e., the process from return to new rental, is very time-consuming and involves high logistical and financial expenditure. Especially moving the rental cars around the site costs valuable resources. This is where LiDAR technology and environment detection come into play: By integrating the sensors into the site’s infrastructure, the rental cars can be controlled remotely, making driverless navigation and parking possible.
Loss of efficiency due to frequent movement of vehicles
Most of us have probably already rented a car at some point. So, while we are familiar with the return process, much of the subsequent work remains unseen by the customer. As soon as the rented car is returned, an essential part of the work begins for the rental company: the turnaround. After the return and an initial check, the car is driven to a control station, which is usually located on the same premises. Here the vehicles are checked in detail and pass through several stations as required: Damage control, services such as oil level or tire pressure, exterior washing and interior cleaning, refueling, and final inspection.
Ideally, no repairs, special cleaning, or other additional activities are required and the vehicles can be again booked as available in the system. If required, they can be driven directly to the pickup station again.
The goal at all times is to keep the turnaround time as short as possible in order to optimize capacity utilization.
However, meeting this goal is the great challenge within the turnaround. Between stations, the vehicle must repeatedly be driven manually from station to station. This process is carried out by employees and is therefore very time-consuming. In addition, employees may have to cover long distances on foot, for example when vehicles are parked at the other end of the site.
How can fleet management be optimized during turnaround?
A large number of modern vehicles are already able to steer, accelerate, or brake independently. This can be found, for example, in parking aids in which the steering wheel moves as if by magic. In the near future, this technology will be rolled out across all vehicle categories. But while simple ultrasonic sensors are sufficient for parking, cars still lack comprehensive sensor technology for actual self-driving functions. LiDAR sensors, for example, are required for more advanced automated functions, but these are only slowly becoming widely used.
LiDAR explained: A LiDAR emits light pulses and detects the light reflected by objects. The sensor measures the time between emission and return of the laser pulse and thereby calculates exact distances. LiDARs repeat this procedure up to a million times per second and summarize the results in a high-definition 3D point cloud.
One solution is therefore to install the sensor technology in the infrastructure, for example in lampposts on the car rental premises. This way, the vehicles are detected externally, i.e., from the outside and in great detail. The sensor system overlooks and scans the premises, detects vehicles as well as people and obstacles, and on this basis, provides the vehicle with an exact route to move around the area. The rental cars can thus be controlled “remotely.”
The premises must be captured with high precision by the sensor system in order to avoid collisions of any kind and to be able to steer the vehicles safely and reliably from A to B. Solid-state LiDAR sensors are ideally suited for this purpose and have several advantages over other solutions, such as cameras:
- They capture the site in 3D. This means that objects such as other vehicles, posts, building walls, or of course pedestrians are immediately recognized as objects without the need to interpret the images, as is the case with cameras. In this way, all objects can be avoided and vehicles can be safely steered through free areas.
- They are able to provide reliable data even in bad weather or darkness.
- The recorded 3D information does not contain any personal data, as persons can be recognized as such but cannot be identified. The privacy of employees and customers is therefore protected.
Remote navigation optimizes use of capacity
The tracking of the vehicles thus enables their remote navigation and more efficient fleet management. By also determining the volume of vehicles at the individual stations with the LiDAR sensors, the routes of rental cars can be adjusted in turnaround situations, thus optimizing the utilization of capacity. For example, if the car wash is currently occupied, the rental car is directed to the next available station, which must be used. In addition, fewer accidents occur thanks to the fleet management system, as it is no longer stressed employees who control the vehicles and are prone to bump into something while in a hurry, but a reliable sensor solution.
Smart parking relieves employees
If the vehicle is not immediately rented again after the turnaround, it must be parked. The smart infrastructure can also provide support in the search for a parking spot. Free parking spaces are identified using LiDAR sensor technology and the vehicles are directed to the next available slot accordingly. Since this process is performed remotely, no doors have to be opened, so less space for parking is required per rental car. This means that self-parking cars make efficient use of parking space and save fuel. Above all, the employees are relieved, as they no longer have to manually re-park the vehicles and spend a long time looking for a suitable parking space. In addition, the smart parking solution means that there are no long distances from the car park back to the stations, so that employees have more time for customer service and activities at the control stations.
Efficiency in fleet management as a competitive advantage
Due to new mobility concepts such as car sharing or driving services, car rental companies are increasingly facing greater competition. In order to be able to keep up in the long term, processes such as the turnaround need to be optimized and made more efficient. By using LiDAR in a smart infrastructure, employees have more time for the demanding tasks in the rental process and for customer contact. By controlling vehicles remotely on the basis of LiDAR data, fleet management can be made much more efficient.
Find out how your business can benefit from remote LiDAR sensing.