How self-parking cars work

October 29th, 2006

Here in the US Lexus is heavily advertising their automatic parallel parking feature. My first thought, I’ll admit, was that when civilization collapses, I’ll have the advantage of still remembering how to do many things manually — drive a stick shift, write in longhand with a fountain pen (and even a nib pen if things get really bad), and parallel park my Mad Max vehicle. But the Lexus Advanced Parking Guidance System is pretty neat technology, even if it does add at least $1,200US to the cost of an already expensive car. Here’s how it works

“The view from a back-up camera is displayed on the screen at the heart of the car’s navigation system. The driver … uses touch-screen arrows to move about a targeting box, much like a video game. When the red box turns green, the driver pushes a button that reads “OK”, and the car takes over. With the driver’s hands free, the electric motors in the power steering system spin the wheel back and forth to navigate the car. The driver controls speed by keeping a foot on the brake. And the car won’t stop itself if, say, a child steps off the curb into the parking spot. Stomping on the brake, turning the wheel or hitting the gas will shut off the parking system.” [Source]

This isn’t going to help you get into a tight space, or even a normal space in an urban environment — the car won’t even try to park unless the targeting box is at least six feet longer than the car. I’ve spent many years parking in cities and know that you often have to squeeze into a space that has less than one foot of extra space. Even when it’s on a hill and especially when its 2:00am.

The smart self-parking car might seem like an excess, but it is a good example of how machines are becoming aware of the context they are in and using this knowledge to behave more intelligently, or at least more appropriately.

You can read more about the topic on Gizmodo or this site that explains in general How Self-parking Cars Work.