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Self-Parking Technology: How Does it Work and Are Drivers Actually Using the Feature?

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【Summary】The technology stems from the Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et an Automatique (INRIA), which is currently being used by leading car manufacturers, such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota. It is important to consider that most cars today are capable of SAE L2 or L3 assisted parking, which closely adheres to Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J3016 standards.

Michael Cheng    Dec 09, 2016 7:06 AM PT

Parallel parking, especially in congested cities, is an incredibly technical driving maneuver that takes time to master. Unless you own a compact vehicle, like some EVs available in the market today, chances are you've hit the curb (at least once) in an attempt to get as close as possible to the sidewalk; or in the worst-case scenario, slightly nudge the car in front of or behind you.

In the past two decades, automakers developing autonomous driving features have made it top priority to enhance self-parking capabilities of their four-wheel offerings. The technology stems from the Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et an Automatique (INRIA), which is currently being used by leading car manufacturers, such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota. It is important to consider that most cars today are capable of SAE L2 or L3 assisted parking, which closely adheres to Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J3016 standards.

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Self-Parking 101

Going beyond colorful lane guides and auditory notifications, most people don't know how self-parking systems work. During the initial approach, the car sizes up the space allotted for parking. In manual parallel parking, this is the time the driver scrutinizes the space and ultimately decides if he or she will move forward with the maneuver. For cars, this step takes a lot more effort (or computing power), which involves leveraging robust sensors on the front and rear bumpers.

"In the case of the rear sonar, two to four ultrasonic sensors are mounted on the rear bumper to detect an obstacle up to 2 to 2.5m away. The distance is communicated to the driver in real time using varying buzzer sounds. Even a wire fence can be detected if it is close enough," said Munenori Hikita from New Electronics.

When determining the distance between the vehicle and other nearby objects, the vehicle relies on electromagnetic or ultrasonic detection (capable of distinguishing distances up to 30 cm). After determining the best course of action, the vehicle initiates guidance and error-correcting adjustments, with the human driver being limited to forward, reverse or braking controls. In some cars, interfering with the self-parking system (for example, touching the steering wheel) will automatically disengage the feature.

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Usage Stats and Success Rates

According to a 2015 report released by the American Automobile Association (AAA), self-parking system usage is currently low, despite its impressively high success rate. The survey uncovered that roughly 80 percent of US-based drivers are confident in their ability to execute parallel parking maneuvers. However, this does not mean that they can perform the action faster or more accurately.

"Autonomous features, such as active park assist, are rapidly being introduced into new vehicles, yet American drivers are hesitant to let go of the wheel," explained John Nielsen, AAA's managing director of automotive engineering and repair.

Interestingly, the report pointed out that self-parking systems can actually execute the maneuver 10 percent faster than humans. Furthermore, relying on the autonomous feature can reduce curb strikes by a whopping 81 percent, while parking up to 37 percent closer to the sidewalk. Based on AAA's findings, there's almost no reason to resist using the technology.


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