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Gadget inventors want to take the frustration out of parking

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author photo by Bob Keefe December 2006

With holiday shopping now in high gear, you can bet that finding a parking spot at the mall will be frustrating.

Take heart, though. In the future, technology might make it easier.

Carmakers, communications companies and high-tech firms all are working on ways to let you electronically find, reserve and pay for parking spots, then automatically park your vehicle in them when you get there.

A lot of the effort is aimed at "George Jetson" consumers willing to pay for the latest gadgets. But also helping drive technology into the mundane business of parking are high gas prices, environmental issues, congestion and rising real estate prices.

"I don't know how many people on a typical day… are looking for a place to park, needlessly using up gas, causing pollution and delaying my drive home, " said Neil Schuster, president of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, which advocates better transportation systems. Technology "is not only part of the solution, it's a key part of it, " he said.

Already, airports and many major parking companies have deployed electronic car-counting devices that let approaching drivers know how many parking spaces are available in a lot and where they're located.

In-car GPS navigation systems can guide drivers to surface parking decks.

Oncoming technology is more far-reaching, even though there are a few speed bumps between here and there.

Some of the concepts:

Finding parking spots.
Coral Springs, Fla.-based Nav4 Technology Inc. plans to test a system in New York next year that would embed cheap radio-frequency identification tags in parking spots.

Using cellphones, drivers could zero in on the transmitters as they circle the block. As a bonus, drivers could also use their phones to find their car if they forget where they parked.

XM Satellite Radio is further along with what it calls its ParkingLink system, which it is testing in Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit.

XM plans to link up with parking lot operators, which would beam information on empty spots to XM subscribers, just like they can get traffic information today.

No date has been set to roll out the service, spokesman David Butler said. Atlanta has one of XM's biggest subscriber bases.

Reserving and paying for parking spots.
Internet companies in several big cities now offer online databases that can be used to find, reserve and pay for parking spots in advance.

Other outfits, such as Cambridge, Mass.-based SpotScout Inc., are now planning to take the concept to mobile phones. SpotScout's service would let users of Web-enabled phones or hand-held computers search for parking spots by typing in their destination, then sort them by price, location or type.

Using SpotScout, homeowners could even put their driveway or private parking spot up for the highest bid at peak times, such as during sporting events or festivals.

Cellphones can also be used to pay for parking. ParkMagic, an Irish company, just announced an agreement with a Verizon subsidiary for a U.S. service that would let subscribers use cellphones to pay for metered parking in some cities.

Parking your vehicle.
Lexus' new LS 460 sedans do the seemingly impossible: They parallel-park themselves.

Using sensors and a wide-angle camera, models with Lexus' optional Advanced Parking Guidance System measure the size of parking spaces, then automatically turn the steering wheel and back the car into a space with the push a button.

Bundled with navigation packages and in-car entertainment systems, the system can add $3,800 or more to the price of the cheaper, $61,000 LS 460 model. The option costs an extra $700 on the $71,000 LS 460L model, which comes standard with many of the other features.

In coming months, Lexus plans to significantly increase the number of LS 460s that it makes with the option because of high demand.

Electronics giant Siemens, among other auto industry suppliers, are working on similar systems.

Clearwater, Fla.-based Robotic Parking Systems Inc. is one of several companies trying to build automated parking garages across the country. With Robotic's technology, drivers pull their cars into an elevatorlike lift at the garage entrance. The system raises the cars and moves them to spots.

Robotic spokesman Jeff Faria said the system is safer, more compact and more efficient than traditional garages.

In the four years since opening, the Hoboken, N.J., garage has dropped two cars — once because a car was positioned incorrectly, and once because a driver opened the trunk of his new Cadillac with his remote while it was being moved, according to the company.



© 2007 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Gadget inventors want to take the frustration out of parking - Autotrader