| No sweat: Come 2008, Parkmate should be able to find you parking space
Regensberg (Germany), Dec. 26: Help could be at hand for motorists who find squeezing a car into a space smaller than a bus virtually impossible.
Scientists in Germany are working on a vehicle that not only parks itself, but even scans the street to find a space.
Parkmate, which is expected to be available from 2008, is part of a battery of technology being developed by Siemens VDO, one of the world’s major suppliers of in-car electronics.
A test drive by The Daily Telegraph showed that, at least on this gadget, there is still work to be done.
Cruising slowly up a suburban street in Regensburg, southern Germany, it did not take long for the test car ' a BMW Estate ' to spot a space.
Having worked out the geometry, Parkmate made a reassuring melodic chime, which tells the driver to stop and let the car steer itself into the gap. Then, as if by magic, the steering wheel turned and the BMW sidled inches past the car next to it and into the space ' before hitting the kerb and mounting it.
In fairness, it was a very low kerb.
Attempt number two was similar to the first. One interested spectator was the owner of the blue car at the back of the space.
Perhaps concerned at the sight of a driver waving his hands in the air while his vehicle pulled dangerously close, the man jumped into his car and reversed, making the space large enough for a small oil tanker.
This rather defeated the object of the experiment and another small space was found.
There was the same reassuring chime. The car hit the kerb again.
But this time the BMW was pretty much in the space and The Daily Telegraph did the rest.
“This is a new version of the system, which we have been trying for six weeks,” explained Dirk Zittlau, Siemens VDO’s vice-president of advanced driver assistance.
The problem, he said, was that the cold temperature had confused some of the sensors, which were unable to pick up a signal from the kerb.
It was clear that Parkmate is a few years away from being offered to motorists, but other systems are almost ready to go on the market.
A blind spot warning system, which flashes an alarm when a vehicle comes alongside, is working perfectly and should be available within a year.
The same is true of another alarm system which makes the steering wheel shake if the driver starts drifting into another lane.
A speed limit recognition device ' which flashes the information on to the windscreen ' should be an option by 2008.
This technology not only reads road signs, but cross references them against speed limit data loaded on digital maps in an on board computer. It can even pick up variable speed limits ' ones normally marked by electronic signs on a gantry.
A sophisticated form of cruise control ' one which prevents tailgating by slowing down when the car gets too close to the vehicle in front ' should be on sale in 2007.
Night vision is slightly further away. It comes in two forms. One flashes an image of the road ahead on the screen. While it gives a far better indication of what the motorist cannot see, the driver feels as if he or she is playing an arcade game.
Thermal imaging, which detects pedestrians and large animals on the road ahead, highlighting them with a pink circle, is more user-friendly.
Both should be on the market in about five years.
According to Zittlau, motorists could expect to pay a few hundred pounds to have much of the technology factory-fitted when they buy a new car.
Other companies have toyed with a car that drives itself. But this has raised complex issues, including who would be to blame in the event of an accident.
“Our philosophy is that the driver remains in control,” Zittlau said. “The human being is there to drive the car, but at times he is at a disadvantage compared to technology, such as when it comes to reaction times.
“What we are trying to do is take the boring tasks away from the driver.”