Tech’splaining: What is an Automatic Parking Assist System and How Does It Work?

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
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My driver’s education teacher thought I was a parallel parking expert, and during that summer session in the Lakeview High School parking lot, he pitted me against a fellow classmate in an epic battle involving ever-tightening spaces. I can’t recall who won, but to this day I find parallel parking easy.

Most people, however, do not share my sunny optimism for slipping a car into a space without crunching the wheels on a curb, or the bumpers on adjacent vehicles. Plus, few people enjoy trolling for empty spaces in parking garages, including me. The good news for those who hate parking is that automotive engineers are working on solutions to this problem.

At first, reversing cameras and parking sensors helped a driver when maneuvering. Now, automated parking assist systems that steer for you are increasingly common. The latest versions also take over with regard to braking, acceleration, and transmission operation.

Remote parking assist is just emerging as the next stage in automated parking assist technology. Using a key fob, or a smartphone app, these systems can park and retrieve a vehicle while you stand outside of it.

To perform such feats of strength, automated and remote parking systems use sensors, radar, and cameras to identify a properly sized space and maneuver into or out of it without damaging the vehicle, hitting pedestrians, or scraping against adjacent cars. Some systems are more sophisticated than others, but they all intend to relieve a driver of this often-challenging task.

Standard automated parking assist works when you’re inside the vehicle

Audi Q5 semi-autonomous parking assist system
Basic automated parking assist systems are semi-autonomous and may only take control of the steering in order to park parallel to the curb. Here, Audi illustrates how Q5 SUV can also semi-autonomously park in a perpendicular space. (Image: Audi)

Right now, the most popular automated parking assist systems are semi-autonomous and take control only of the steering. They all work to identify parallel spaces, and some will also help a driver to exit a parallel space. Systems that can park in perpendicular spaces are increasingly common.

To use the system, the driver typically pushes a button to activate the technology. It then seeks an open space that is large enough to accommodate the vehicle and notifies the driver to stop when it finds one. After confirming the parking action, the driver lets go of the steering wheel and the vehicle steers into the space. The driver is responsible for braking, acceleration, and changing gears.

More advanced versions of automated parking assist can take control of the entire process. However, they still require the driver to be inside of the vehicle and ready to override the technology if necessary. They work in a similar fashion to the more common systems, but are fully autonomous and operate the steering, braking, acceleration, and transmission.

Remote automated parking assist works when you’re not inside the vehicle

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Hyundai’s fuel cell electric vehicle, the Nexo, offers remote automated parking assist, as demonstrated in this video. The top image in this article highlights a remote system in an Audi A8. (Hyundai)

Remote automated parking assist systems are just now becoming available to consumers. Using these, the driver activates the technology while sitting inside of the vehicle and, when it identifies an appropriate parking space, the driver exits the car and controls the technology remotely using the key fob or a smartphone application.

Regardless of the system – semi-autonomous, fully autonomous, or remote – these automated parking assist technologies work slowly and require quite a bit of clearance for accuracy. This makes them inappropriate for use in situations where heavy vehicle or pedestrian traffic is present.

Busy streets and crowded parking lots are not good places to use automated parking assist systems. In these environments, the technology can frustrate other motorists and force delays out of an abundance of caution for the safety of pedestrians.

Instead, automated parking assist systems are more effective when used on quiet side streets or on the fringes of parking lots. As shown in the lead photo for this article, they are also helpful when parking in tight garage spaces.

Future automated parking assist will work like a personal valet

Future remote parking assist systems

This illustration from Volvo envisions a future in which your car parks itself. Later, when you’re ready, it drives itself back to you. (Image: Volvo)

Ultimately, the future of automated parking assist envisions a world where you step out of your vehicle in the most convenient location and send a smartphone command telling the car to park itself wherever it can find a space.

For example, you pull up to a restaurant and exit the vehicle. At your command, the car drives down the street to a parking garage to store itself. After your meal, you summon the car via a smartphone app and it comes to pick you up. In other words, it operates as a personal valet.

What happens when a movie lets out, or a concert is over, and hundreds of people are summoning their self-parking cars at the same time? A traffic jam, of course.

And that sounds like another problem for automotive engineers to solve.

RELATED CONTENT:

Hyundai Nexo Review

Tech’splaining: BMW Remote Control Parking

Mercedes-Benz Automated Valet Parking System


About the Author

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
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