• Trusting a computer to park your car

    by  • March 16, 2011 • Features, Technology

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    You’ve set out late, got stuck in traffic and then there’s the parking – all you can find are tight-looking parallel parking spaces.

    Now, there’s no doubt you could have parked in that tinchy space yourself if you’d had the time for all the angle calculating and to-ing and fro-ing but wouldn’t it be nice just to hit the park button, sit back and relax and let the car do all the work?

    Well, you can.

    Park assist in a large car like the Ford Grand C Max is really handy – if you’re willing to trust the on board computer.

    Ta Da! Stress-free parallel parking

    Basically, the car finds the space for you, calculates if it will fit and does all the steering – all the driver has to do is to observe their surroundings and to work the brake, the accelerator and the gears.

    I won’t lie, it’s very disconcerting sitting in your car and watching the steering wheel spin of its own accord for the first time, and the second, and possibly even the third.

    However, after that you calm down a little and realise the car really does know what it’s doing and will put your parking to shame – if there was a parallel parking test, park assist would get full marks.

    The first couple of times I tried it, I was tempted to ‘help’ with the steering, but don’t touch the wheel – park assist doesn’t like interference, gets huffy and tells you to park it yourself.

    So how does it work?

    Basically, the car uses two ultrasonic sensors to scan for a big enough space between parked cars – this can be no more than 20 per cent longer than the vehicle.

    When you’re approaching the area you would like to park in, turn on active park assist and drive really slowly along the line of parallel parking spaces – when the car finds a space it will fit into, it dings and tells you to stop.

    If you don’t stop straight away you’ve lost your chance and park assist will start looking for another space.

    Because of the need for an immediate stop, it doesn’t help to have someone on your tail so in this instance busy urban driving is difficult.

    In the seconds it took the car to find a space it has also calculated the manoeuvres it will need to make.

    Big spaces are quick and easy – but then, if your parking is anyway decent at all you wouldn’t need help for the bigger spaces.

    Where park assist really comes into its own is for tight spaces and it does the to-ing and fro-ing for you and even works on hills – and speedbumps.

    When the car finds a space it tells you to stop, and initially to reverse – checking around you that it’s safe to do so, of course.

    You have to keep your hands off the wheel and the car does the steering for you – be ready for some odd looks from passers-by.

    When it gets to a point that it needs to go forward it will tell you to do so and the car will ding when it’s parked to its satisfaction.

    The parking manoeuvres can be carried out at speeds of up to 10km/h.

    Once I got over the mental trauma of trusting the computer not to crash into the car in front or behind, I really liked park assist.

    Tight spaces were a bit scary but with time I reckon your trust in the feature would grow – it does know what it’s doing and will leave you with a perfectly parked car.

    Ford Active Park Assist is offered as an option on the all new Grand CMax and C-MAX and costs from €400. It will also be available in the new Ford Focus, but prices have yet to be finalised.