What does the US think about Parking Sensors?

Parking sensors are quickly integrating into our everyday lives. Car manufacturers are developing parking sensors that they claim will take the stress and risk out of parking. Smart car parking lots use parking sensors to produce real-time data about parking availability. And some cities around the world are on the path towards putting parking sensors to help cities reduce traffic and manage parking fees. 

With data and technology drastically shaping our lives even in the mundane task of parking, it’s reasonable to ask: What is up with parking sensors? Where can you find them? How do they work? What are they for? 

In this Spacer rundown of parking sensors, we’re covering it all!

Let’s start by clearing up some terminology

One of the most confusing things about parking sensors is that they can refer to a few different types of technology. 

In our recent article, Smart Parking=Smart Cities?, we took a deep dive into parking sensors that work outside of the car. 

We discussed, for example, how smart parking garages are able to stay updated on how many parking spaces are available in a lot at any given time. These smart parking sensors are generally adhered to the floor or ceiling of a parking structure and rely either on radar or metal-detecting sensors to know whether a parking space is filled.

And, you can imagine the benefit of a computing system that can tell you not only how many parking spaces are available in a parking structure, but also assign you to the most convenient open spot.  

Outside of the setting of a parking garage, some municipalities have been installing similar parking sensors around busy city centers to help alleviate traffic and more efficiently collect parking fees. Similar to the parking sensors that you might find in parking garages, these programs rely on parking and roadway sensors installed in the pavement to collect data about parking and traffic. Big cities such as Washington DC and San Francisco have already seen success with these programs. 

And they’re generally pretty convenient for drivers. You can typically pay for parking through an app and virtually refill your parking meter if you need to.

But you can find parking sensors inside your car as well, with the help of  of self-parking technology or parking assist technology that is built into your car’s operating system. And it’s this parking sensor technology that we’re going to take a closer look at.

Parking technology today and in the future

We all want to put the hassle of parking behind us once and for all. As we mentioned in our previous article, What is Self Parking, we may have to wait a while until Tesla is ready to roll out their 100% self-parking technology for that vision to become a reality. 

That’s not to say that parking hasn’t become substantially easier in recent years. We can all be thankful that advances in parking sensors are helping us park with fewer fender benders and stress than in the old days of checking our blind spots and trusting our own spatial awareness.

So, how exactly do these parking sensors work? For a task as simple as parking, you might be surprised at how complex the technology is!

First, let’s talk about the different kinds of sensors. Some cars use what are called ultrasonic proximity sensors. The technology works by sending out ultrasonic waves, a frequency far above what humans can detect, to gauge the distance between objects. It’s similar to the way that bats use echolocation to navigate through the air and catch prey. When a car or other object bounces back the frequency too quickly, the front or rear parking sensors are triggered.

Unfortunately, ultrasonic parking sensors aren’t perfect systems. They have trouble detecting objects that don’t perfectly bounce back their acoustic pulses, such as small or low-to-the-ground hazards, or anything that is soft enough as to absorb the soundwaves. 

And that’s where the other type of parking sensors system comes in. A few years ago, electromagnetic parking sensors started to gain attention. Instead of sending out ultrasonic acoustic waves, these parking sensors send out electromagnetic ones, which are able to detect a wider variety of objects. As fantastical as it may sound, these rear and front parking sensors create an electromagnetic field around the entire car. Anything in the field can be detected by the parking sensor.

Now, these electromagnetic parking sensors are becoming standard in new cars, but just a few years ago, you had to have them fitted to your bumper. Many car owners didn’t appreciate the DIY look of a drilled on parking sensor, so it wasn’t until the system was designed into the car that the idea really took off.

These types of parking sensors are so popular today, that if you bought your car in the last few years, chances are, you’re already using them! Instead of directly stating that a car has these parking sensors, manufacturers tend to call the system “park assist.” All of the major companies, from BMW, to Ford, to Mercedes, to Tesla offer the park assist function in their newer models.

The future of parking sensors

As it stands today, the bulk of your parking sensor’s job is to alert you to any hazards in your way while you park. But the exciting news is this is just the beginning. The engineers behind the park assist technology have much higher expectations for the future of these parking sensors.

The end goal is that eventually, parking sensors will allow a car to park itself completely. In fact, there are already some cars rolling out this technology. BMW’s park assist system, for instance, is advanced enough for the car to parallel park, back into a tight parking spot and even leave a parking spot without the help of the driver. Without highly advanced parking sensors, this type of automated parking just wouldn’t be possible.

Those of us outside of the luxury car lifestyle may have to wait a few years for this kind of park assist technology to become accessible to everyone. But the future of parking sensors is promising!

How can you maximize parking safety?

As we’ve discussed, parking sensors are a great way to stay safe while parking. Here are a couple of additional tips for safe and easy parking:

  • If your car doesn’t have park assist, you can install a parking sensors system at home. These days, installing parking sensors is an easy do-it-yourself solution, and you don’t have to drill holes in your bumper anymore. 
  • Take advantage of parking cameras. Because parking sensors aren’t always 100% effective, many parking systems also make use of parking cameras. It’s important to stay alert and keep an eye on your cameras while you park, even with park assist.
  • Rent your own parking space. If you really want an easy, safe fix, renting your own parking space through Spacer is a great option. From Seattle to Miami, there are cheap, convenient parking spaces available so that you won’t have to worry about parallel parking or hoping that your parking sensors can help you in tight spots. Simply find the parking spot that is perfect for your car and take the stress out of parking completely.

Are you a fan of parking sensors?

Here at Spacer, we’d love to hear your experiences with all different kinds of smart parking technology. Reach out with your thoughts on parking sensors!

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