Everyone asks the same question. Will it find a parking space for me? Alas, no, but the Lexus Intelligent Park Assist, first made available on the 2007 Lexus LX 460 is still a significant advance in intuitive automotive technology. The system, which is optional, adds $3,425 to the base price of the $69,150 luxury sedan.
The Toyota Motor Corporation began to develop the system in 2004 and made it available in 2005 in Japan only on the Prius. Cars equipped with the Intelligent Park Assist are fitted with a camera to the rear of the vehicle, a computer, and a steering sensor.
When the driver pulls up to a spot for parallel parking, the vehicle is placed in reverse and the Intelligent Park Assist is activated. The camera places a live image of the parking area on the navigation screen in the center of the console. The image is overlaid with a box and four arrows. Using the arrows, the driver moves the box into the available space by tapping the screen.
Once the placement process is complete, the driver touches an activation button on the screen and releases the wheel while keeping his foot on the brake. The car will not stop for pedestrians or objects that may be in its path, so the driver must monitor the maneuver. If the driver takes his foot off the brake, the car immediately stops.
Additionally, the correct level of speed must be maintained. If the car is moving too slowly or too quickly, parking will also be halted. Once the vehicle has worked itself into the space, the car must be manually placed in drive and pulled forward to complete the positioning.
The Intelligent Park Assist system is not good for tight parking spaces. The area used must be four feet longer than the car itself. That translates to 20.5 feet for the LS 460 and 20.9 feet for the LS 460 L (which has a longer wheelbase.)
The camera can also be used for backing the car into a parking space, with the driver only being required to position the vehicle in front of the area so that the camera may image the space. The same guiding principles then apply.
Some reviewers who have tested the system complain that the learning curve is sufficiently tricky and long that simply parking the car the old-fashioned way is infinitely easier. Obviously drivers new to the Intelligent Park Assist need to practice with the technology before using it in real-life parking situations.
Still, however, with the increased use of cameras in automobiles and with Honda already selling a competing Smart Parking Assist System in Japan, this kind of intuitive technology will become more common in the cars of the future on models more drivers can afford. Designers will continue to refine the execution of the technology, making our vehicles smarter and safer in the process.