I have seen the future, and it's terrifyingly convenient. Sitting behind the wheel of a
Ford Taurus Lincoln MKS, I watched as its Active Park Assist system took over the steering, parallel-parking the car in a tight spot on a New York street as I worked the pedals. Ford was demo'ing the tech — which has just begun to hit the streets — in the company's promotional campaign for the 2010 Taurus. Of all the new technologies shown off, including an upgraded SYNC system, the Active Park Assist impressed me the most.
When I say it's terrifying, I mean it, but kind of in a good way. The first time you let go of the steering wheel while performing parallel parking, it's very disconcerting. But grabbing hold of it will instantly cause the system to abort, so I kept my hands clear. As the instructions appeared on the dash, telling me to back up slowly, I watched as the wheel turned itself over and over, then expertly turn the other way when it was time to straighten out. As the MKS backed toward the parked car behind us, the collision warning system — which visually and audibly lets you know how close you're getting — kept track of the whole maneuver with far more precision than I could.
More on the tech behind the system, and the key question about it, after the jump.
The first question that pops to mind is, "Is this system better than the one in the Lexus?" I can't really say since I've never used the Lexus system, and after watching this YouTube video (and others like it), I don't really want to. What I can say is that Ford's Park Assist is about as simple to use as a system like this could be: press button, turn on blinker, drive past parking space, and then the system takes over. The ease of use might be because Ford's system uses ultrasound sensors as opposed to being camera-based like the Lexus's.
Could this be the first step toward robot vehicles, not unlike the ones seen on the highways in Minority Report (ironically based on a Lexus)? Doubtful — the system will only work properly at very low speeds, and any general-driving system would need several different techs working in concert (i.e. not just ultrasound). But as a current fender-bender preventer, Active Park Assist is no maybe-someday tech. It's here and now.