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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Does your car know how to park itself?


Few things are as stressful as driving into the core of a metropolis and trying to parallel park into a space that's only a hair longer than the length of your car. Visions of Kramer ping-ponging his vehicle back and forth between the sandwiching cars come to mind. Even though we're all required to learn this skill and to demonstrate it in order to pass our driver's licensing exam, once that's been taken care of, most of us shy away from parallel parking if we can help it. And of course, less practice leads to less confidence, which leads to less practice, and so forth. So of course it was only a matter of time before someone came up with the technology for a car that parks itself at the push of a button. This isn't just a jetsonian futuristic thing either—today you can buy a car that parks itself. Auto companies are presently making this an option, with the selling point being that self parking cars can fit into spaces smaller than anything even the best of drivers could squeeze into. Another selling point for this technology is that it could potentially lower costs related to car insurance claims, since the likelihood of damaging either your own vehicle or another vehicle during a difficult park job would be greatly eliminated.

As interesting as it sounds though, is it worth the investment for this technology? To answer this, for yourself, you would need to compare manual parking with automatic parking and determine what value these advantages hold for you. To make this comparison, first consider what manual parking entails. In order to be successful in parallel parking, your space needs to be the length of your car plus an additional six feet. Getting into the space involves pulling ahead of it (aligning yourself with the parked vehicle in front of it), turning your car's wheels in the direction of the curb, and backing into the space at an appropriate angle. Once you reach the point where your front wheels line up with the back wheels of the car in the space in front of you, you straighten out your car as you finish backing in. You then turn your wheels away from the curb to bring the front end of your vehicle in line with the rest, and then make final adjustments to ensure that you have equal amounts of space behind and in front of you, and that you are a foot away from the curb.

Self parking cars take all of the guesswork out of this process for you. Even though monitoring the speed (using the brakes) is still up to you, the assessment of angles, and the timing of turns is all done for you. When you start the self-parking feature, you allow it to take control of your steering wheel. It will bring the car up beside the vehicle in front of you (much as you would do yourself if you were parking manually). It will give a signal when you should stop, and put the car into reverse. Then the system will turn your steering wheel to back the car perfectly into the space. It will give a signal once again to let you know when it's ready to have you change out of reversing and back to driving. In addition to making sure all angles are calculated perfectly for you, self parking cars are also equipped with technology to ensure that bumping into vehicles and other objects never happens (via cameras, sensors, etc). If you live in the country on an acreage, and you seldom visit the city, this may not be among your top priorities. But if you live in the downtown of a major city and are constantly dealing with the stress of tying up traffic and worrying about parking correctly, self-parking cars may be an answer to prayer for you.

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