I am not a technophobe, or a technological luddite. While not the most tech-sympathetic (witness how many computers and phones I’ve gone through in the last couple of years) I will typically give new tech, and geeky gadgets a fair crack of the whip. If they’re attached to a car, then all the better.
So give me ipod integration, navigation, cruise control and power seats. I’m up for them. I can even see the point in onboard fridges, TVs and the like. But I just don’t get auto parking, which has been around for a while now and have recently experienced first hand. I realise that might put me at odds with many who'll welcome this feature as a boon, but here's my take...
It was standard on the top of the line Prius that we tested last month, and Ford rolled it out as a feature in some of its 2010 MY cars starting back in the summer - even winning awards for it. As you can see from the video below – using the systems in action, they vary only in the minor details: Press button. Car identifies big enough space. Slot car into reverse. Car steers, you brake. Done. Parked.
They work well enough, up to a point. As the guy in the Ford video suggested, the system needs a space around 120% the length of the car to get in to. That’s my first problem. In a lot of spaces in the city, that’s too small. I reckon on about 6-8 inches either end of the car is what I need (and often, what you’ve got to play with in a typical London street). Secondly these systems take longer to slot the car in to the space than an adept human driver. That might seem a small detail, but in the city, you’re often on a street, blocking traffic and under pressure to park, and park fast.
I'm not trying to gloat about my parking prowess. Seeing these systems in action is impressive – has a ‘wow’ factor even. But fundamentally, they aren’t as good as a good human. For me, until that changes, then I’m not interested. They simply become another techy thing for car makers to sell as extras – just like they do sat navs, power seats and more powerful stereo systems. In a way, part of my problem is that they don’t go far enough.
Perhaps the next step on from these systems could offer something really useful. Link it – via the sat nav – to something like IBM's parking space sensors as part of a Smarter Cities programme – to help you actually find (and reserve) a vacant space. Then allow the car to completely take over – parking itself, controlling brake and throttle pedal. So the car really parks itself. You might even want to get out at the entrance of a parking lot, and let the car drive itself up three or four levels and slot into a tight space. Now that’s something I can see the value of.
Posted by Joseph Simpson on 18th November 2009