Parking your car is one of the most elemental of driving tasks, but for some drivers, it’s also one of the most difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where the car ends and obstacles begin, and many vehicles on the road have the scratched paint, dented bumpers, and damaged wheels to prove it. And who among us hasn’t suffered a door ding due to other motorists parking too close and letting their doors fly open?
Automatic parking assist can help relieve some of the stress and reduce some of the damage. This technology uses sensors, radars, and cameras to take autonomous control of specific parking tasks or the entire parking exercise, helping drivers safely and securely store their vehicle without damaging it or other cars parked nearby.
These automatic parking assist systems go way beyond the beeps of front and rear parking sensors, steering for you at a minimum and, increasingly, taking complete control of parking while you stand outside of the vehicle. Lately, a veritable explosion of self-parking technologies has put automatic parking assist into many drivers, and numerous cars, trucks, and SUVs offer the systems.
Here are some examples of the currently available and future automatic parking assist systems.
The most common automatic parking assist systems take control of the steering when the driver is parallel parking. Many of these will also steer into a perpendicular parking space at a 90-degree angle from the direction the vehicle is traveling, as shown in this photo depicting Volvo Park Pilot technology.
With this level of parking assistance technology, you remain in the driver’s seat. Your job is to use the accelerator and brake pedals to move the car and shift transmission gears.
When active, this basic automatic parking assist technology finds a suitably sized space for your car. When it determines a parking space is an appropriate size, the driver initiates hands-free steering. Then the car will steer into the space while you operate the pedals and transmission.
Some versions of this technology also offer assistance with exiting a space.
Next, we have fully automatic parking assist systems like Ford’s Active Park Assist 2.0. This type of technology takes full control of the vehicle for parallel and perpendicular parking. Your job is to activate the technology and remain in the driver’s seat, ready to take control if necessary.
We’ve experienced Ford Active Park Assist 2.0 first-hand, and the system works well.
Some automatic parking assist systems allow the driver to stand outside of the car and remotely operate the technology. Hyundai makes an excellent example of this type of system.
Two versions of Hyundai’s Remote Smart Parking Assist (RSPA) are available. The basic version allows you to move the car forward and back without any steering. This is mainly helpful when tucking the vehicle into a tightly packed garage that serves as storage for more than just vehicles.
The expanded version of RSPA works similar to Ford Active Park Assist 2.0, except you’re not sitting in the car. With the expanded RSPA, after the car finds an appropriate parking space, the driver activates the fully autonomous technology and exits the vehicle. The driver then commands the car to autonomously park in a parallel or perpendicular parking space using the remote keyfob.
The Holy Grail of automatic parking assist technology is to send your car into a parking garage by itself and then request that it return to you when you’re ready to depart.
Tesla Smart Summon is the first technology to partially achieve this capability. As long as you’re within 200 feet of the car, you can use a smartphone app to summon a Tesla with this feature to your location. Early versions of this technology proved troublesome, so there is work to be done.
Automotive supplier Bosch is working on solutions. In one instance, it is collaborating with automakers like Ford to fully automate electric car recharging. The idea is that a driver can drop a car off at a charging station, and then the vehicle will autonomously park in a slot, recharge, and move to a regular parking space when the battery is topped off. When the owner returns and summons the vehicle, the EV will drive itself back to the valet station.
Bosch also partnered with Mercedes-Benz to develop Intelligent Park Pilot. Cast as a replacement for the typical valet parking attendant, this system parks the all-new 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class for you and retrieves it when you’re ready to leave. The hardware is already available in the new S-Class but requires more parking lot infrastructure investment before Mercedes will activate it.
Any of these systems can relieve some of the stress associated with driving around in a crowded city and finding an appropriate place to park your vehicle. But they can also add to the pressure since they work slowly and deliberately and can hold up traffic.
Also, suppose something goes awry, and the car hits an obstacle, another vehicle, or worse, a pedestrian. In that case, you’re on the hook for damages, not the automaker or the supplier of the technology.
Therefore, every driver must use their own best judgment when using automatic parking assist systems.