The solution that will take the stress out of parking is just around the corner

Finding, then accessing, a parking spot can be the bane of a motorist’s life, but new technology aims to conquer the fear.

When cringe-making video footage of a motorist’s desperate attempts to park her car outside her house emerged earlier this year, it went viral.

Secretly filmed by a neighbour, the driver was so anxious to bag the tight spot outside her front door in the busy London street where she lived, that she performed more than 35 individual manoeuvres and spent EIGHT minutes getting her vehicle into the prize space.

At one point in the footage, five minutes in, the car in front drives off, leaving the motorist with a free run at the space — but it still takes her another three and a half minutes to come to a standstill.

Of the thousands of people who shared that footage on the internet, many must have given a grimace of recognition.

Parking in the modern urban world can be the bane of drivers’ lives.

It hasn’t helped that in the past 20 years, the width of cars has increased by around 16% but many parking spaces have remained the same size.

Perhaps the dread felt at the prospect of manoeuvring your vehicle into a small space is also a hangover of that nerve-wracking section of the driving test where you have to reverse park around a corner under the watchful gaze of the hawk-like examiner.

Either way, parking can be a minefield. In the UK, a quarter of accidents occur in car parks and almost half of drivers there say they would rather travel further from their destination than attempt to parallel park — no doubt many are also concerned at the prospect of their efforts going viral on the internet, like the fate that befell the poor motorist above.

Moreover, three-quarters of drivers told a survey they get nervous when having to park in front of other drivers, while 15% avoid parallel parking completely.

However, technology currently being developed by Ford aims to introduce an attractive new concept: stress-free parking.

The motor company is hoping its cars of the future will enable drivers to park in spaces they wouldn’t otherwise consider.

Its technology will detect people and objects about to pass behind the vehicle, providing a warning to the driver, and then automatically braking if the driver does not respond. The system is being designed to detect motorcycles and bicycles.

A rear wide-view camera, on the in-car display, will also offer an alternative wide-angle view of the rear of the vehicle, while enhanced ‘active park assist’ functions will parallel or perpendicular park at the push of a button.

The technology is being worked on at Ford’s Research and Advanced Engineering Centre in Aachen, Germany.

“We’ve all become accustomed to the challenges of driving, but parking remains one of the most demanding tasks most of us perform day in, day out,” pointed out Torsten Wey, manager of Chassis & Safety Electronics at Ford of Europe.

“Technology is already proving its potential to help make driving less stressful — and Ford’s investment in research and development is paying off by accelerating innovation to expand our portfolio of driver-assist technologies that deliver functionality and performance that customers will value.”

Further technologies developed at the Ford centre in Aachen include systems designed to help drivers steer around other vehicles to help avoid high speed collisions, and to warn drivers from travelling the wrong way down motorways.

These new technologies — expected to be made available on Ford vehicles in the next two years — are part of the company’s commitment to triple its investment in developing driver assist features, to further evolve them and to expand their capabilities, speeding the roll-out of systems that make it easier to park and drive in heavy traffic, and help motorists avoid collisions.

“There are great benefits in Ford developing new technologies which can aid the driver to avoid collisions, spot vulnerable road-users in blind spots or eradicate parking rage by making parking easier,” said Edmund King, President of the Automobile Association (AA) in the UK.

“Drivers must remain alert and reactive when behind the wheel but driver-assist technology can help.”

In the Aachen Ford centre, more than 250 researchers and engineers work as part of a global company team that aims to deliver consistent, ground-breaking motoring innovations, and Dirk Gunia, supervisor of the Driver Assist Electronics section, said parking was one of the priority areas.

“Parking is one of the most stressful experiences behind the wheel, and drivers struggling to find suitable parking spaces in urban areas can have a knock-on effect for traffic flow as well as stress levels,” he said.

“Technologies like our enhanced active park assist will help drivers feel confident about parking in spaces they might otherwise have considered too small.”

The planned rear wide-view camera offers a similar functionality to Ford’s Front Wide View Camera currently located at the front of the Ford Edge, Galaxy and S-MAX models.

Ford drivers have for some time benefitted from parking technologies such as:

  • Perpendicular Parking, which can detect and reverse the car hands-free into spaces alongside other cars, in the same way Active Park Assist helps drivers to parallel park
  • Park-Out Assist, which helps drivers exit a parallel parking space, the system operating the steering while the driver operates the accelerator and brake
  • Side Parking Aid, which delivers audible alerts and on-screen distance indicators to obstacles around the vehicle
  • Cross Traffic Alert, which warns drivers reversing out of a parking space of vehicles that may soon be crossing behind them

Meanwhile, the prototype technology which is aimed at helping drivers avoid collisions uses radar and a camera to detect slower moving and stationary vehicles ahead, and provides steering support to enable drivers to help avoid a vehicle if a collision is imminent.

The system is activated if there is insufficient space to avoid a collision by braking only and the driver decides to take evasive action.

“As soon as the driver tries to steer around a slower car in an emergency, evasive steering assist activates to help execute the evasive manoeuvre by making it easier to perform quick steering movements,” said Peter Zegelaar, technical expert for brake controls and Automated Driving for Ford.

The technology aimed at preventing motorists from travelling the wrong way down motorways uses a windscreen mounted camera and information from the car’s navigation system to provide drivers with audible and visual warnings when driving through two ‘No Entry’ signs on a motorway ramp.

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