The Ins and Outs of Self-Parking Technology

Parallel parking is a process that lands squarely on my list of non-abilities that runs perpendicular to what I am capable of doing. Surely, I can’t be the only one who has been invited to a party downtown, discovered that parallel parking would be necessary for my vehicle, and promptly decided to go home. Those days are finally coming to an end; At least the parking part, I’m not so confident on the party front. With the impending robot uprising looming just over the horizon, current generations are getting to enjoy the last few years of cooperative harmony with our artificially intelligent counterparts, as our metal overlords have extended a temporary olive branch with the introduction of self-parking cars.

Park Assist

From Assist to Active

Self-parking vehicles are certainly not a new feature in the automotive industry, with the first system of its kind being offered in the form of the “Intelligent Parking Assist” option that was offered with the 2003 Toyota Prius. The original intent of the system was designed for reverse parallel parking, using the vehicle’s onboard computer and cameras to estimate the size of a parking space. Upon completion of the initial estimation, the vehicle dashboard would display an image of the lot, and leave it to the driver to determine exact positioning for the vehicle, using on-screen arrows to guide alignment. When satisfied that the parking spot had been clearly verified, the user would press the ‘set’ button, activating the IPA system and allowing it take control over steering/maneuvering of the vehicle.

The IPA system saw several improvements in the years following its introduction, as well as broader implementation across a number of brands, including Lexus, Audi, Hyundai, and Jeep. Improvements include no-brainer safety additions, such as disengaging the system if the vehicle exceeds a set speed, or if the driver touches the steering wheel/presses on the brakes. Intelligent Parking Assist systems have also adapted to include standard parallel parking assist, allowing for more intricate settings in unique situations or dense urban areas.

In the time since it’s inception, self-parking technology has evolved into a number of unique systems, with BMW’s 7 Series allowing for self-parking to the extent that you can exit your vehicle when you get home and let the onboard computer take care of putting your car in the garage. Tesla has gone so far as to create their own proprietary system, with the implementation of a program they call Summon. Many industry leaders are touting the system as the next great step towards developing full autonomous vehicles, and its use is as simple as downloading the app onto your phone. Tesla’s main selling point on the technology rests in the fact that it helps to eliminate the burden of having to squeeze in and out of tight parking spots, leaving the legwork to your vehicle.

Not Just For Parking

The benefits of a self-parking vehicle are numerous and extend beyond the simple luxury of eliminating redundant motions. In addition to the peace of mind afforded by automated parallel parking, these onboard systems often include features that increase the general ease of use when operating a vehicle. Smartphone apps can be set to start the vehicle’s ignition remotely, as well as locking the doors no matter the distance you are from your car. The use of camera-based systems also affords the added ability for your vehicle to alert you if you should unknowingly stray from your lane on either side, as well as notifying the driver of potential hazards existing in the vehicle’s blind spots. Such systems also provide extra rotors in the realm of helicopter parenting, allowing for parents to be alerted via smartphone when their children go beyond a set range or speed in their vehicle, such as the case with the new 2017 Chevrolet Malibu, for instance.

Chevrolet Teen Driver Report Card

Cost and Considerations

The most apparent concern of self-parking vehicles for readers online seems to revolve around the fact that these systems aren’t exactly ‘fully-autonomous’ yet. Most programs still require human interaction, with some individuals believing that in the time it takes to verify that the vehicle’s alignment is right, the car could have already been parked manually. Another concern related to how these systems don’t seem to work for every vehicle type, with a general belief that the larger the vehicle was, the less the system worked, requiring additional human intervention to successfully park the vehicle. Personally, my largest concern rests in putting your trust (and your insurance premium) at the mercy of technology that hasn’t exactly been perfected yet. In the event that the self-parking system malfunctions and potentially strikes a vehicle, the auto manufacturer isn’t on the hook for damage, you are.

In general, most people are nothing but excited about the increased implementation of self-parking technology. Yet, compared to the significant hype revolving around such systems, it is rarely covered in the news and personal anecdotes of friends possessing the technology are few and far between. This is mostly relative to the additional cost of ‘premium vehicle add-ons’. For example, including autonomous parking on Lincoln’s MKC cost’s an additional $9,500 on top of its base price. So, until this technology becomes standard across all vehicles, or automakers decide to reduce its cost, it may not develop the widespread popularity it rightfully deserves.

Lincoln MKC Park Assist

Automakers are decidedly betting on the success of self-parking technology in the future, as the majority of brands have indicated it’s use in upcoming model releases. 2017 will include vehicle releases with such technology by brands including Mazda, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Ford, GMC, Infiniti, Volvo, Volkswagen, and Subaru. I can’t imagine any point at which the technology would even be capable of reverting in usefulness or ability, meaning that as time moves forward, we will only have front-row seats for significant breakthroughs in the automotive industry.

What are your thoughts on self-parking technology? Let us know in the comments!