Click above for a high-res shot of Active Park Assist in action

Admit it, you've embarrassed yourself at some point trying to parallel park. It's like they say about drivers at Indianapolis: There are those who have hit the wall, and those who will. The same principle applies when it comes to parallel parking. Like an increasing number of automakers, Ford is moving beyond the realm of auto-dip side mirrors and into the realm of auto parking systems. The Blue Oval's new Active Park Assist will initially be available on the Lincoln MKS and MKT (about which you'll hear much more on January 12) next summer.

The system takes advantage of the ultrasonic sensors now mounted on the corners of many vehicles (used for backup warning, blind spot detection and other functions), and combines them with a new electric power assisted steering setup. The system can manipulate the steering automatically and the sensors detect where the vehicle is relative to other vehicles. It starts off by using the sensors to measure the distance between cars to determine if there is enough space, and then it operates the steering, instructing the driver when to shift into Drive or Reverse and press the gas or brake. Ford claims the system works much more reliably than the camera-based system used by Lexus. We had no luck with the Lexus system, so we'll be the judge of how well Ford's setup works. Follow the jump to read Ford's official press release.

Related GalleryFord Active Park Assist

[Source: Ford]


PRESS RELEASE

Ford's new 'active park assist' makes Parallel parking a Breeze for Lincoln MKT and MKS owners

DEARBORN, Mich., Dec. 30, 2008 – The often stressful and frustrating task of parallel parking soon will be as easy as pressing a button for owners of the Lincoln MKS flagship sedan and all-new Lincoln MKT seven-passenger luxury crossover, thanks to an exclusive new technology from Ford Motor Company called Active Park Assist.

Available in mid-2009 as an option on the 2010 Lincoln MKS sedan and new Lincoln MKT crossover, Active Park Assist uses an ultrasonic-based sensing system and Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS) to position the vehicle for parallel parking, calculate the optimal steering angle and quickly steer the vehicle into a parking spot.

"With the touch of a button, Lincoln MKS and MKT drivers can parallel park quickly, easily and safely without ever touching the steering wheel," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of Global Product Development. "This is another example of exclusive Ford smart technology, such as Ford SYNC, that makes the driving experience easier and more enjoyable for our customers."

Active Park Assist system uses sensors on the front and rear of the vehicle to guide the vehicle into a parking space. The technology is a major leap forward in speed and ease of use compared with the camera-reliant systems offered by competitors, including a video camera-based system offered by Lexus. Ford's system requires less driver interface and reduces the risk of selecting a parking spot that is too tight. Ford's Active Park Assist also works in downhill parking situations, unlike competing systems.

Here's how Active Park Assist works:
  • The driver activates the system by pressing an instrument panel button, which activates the ultrasonic sensors to measure and identify a feasible parallel parking space.
  • The system then prompts the driver to accept the system assistance to park.
  • The steering system then takes over and steers the car into the parking space hands-free. The driver still shifts the transmission and operates the gas and brake pedals.
  • A visual and/or audible driver interface advises the driver about the proximity of other cars, objects and people and provides instructions.
  • While the steering is all done automatically, the driver remains responsible for safe parking and can interrupt the system by grasping the steering wheel.

Active Park Assist is enabled by Ford's advanced EPAS technology. In addition to helping with parallel parking, EPAS improves fuel economy up to 5 percent, while reducing CO2 emissions and enhancing steering performance compared with traditional hydraulic powered-assisted steering systems. EPAS saves fuel primarily because the steering system is powered by an electric motor connected to vehicle's battery, as opposed to engine-mounted hydraulic pump steering systems.

By 2012, Ford plans to fit nearly 90 percent of the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury lineup with EPAS.

"As we use advanced technology like Electric Power Assisted Steering to improve the fuel efficiency across our vehicle lineup, we have the opportunity to introduce new comfort and convenience innovations like Active Parking Assist," said Ali Jammoul, Ford's chief engineer for chassis engineering and steering systems. "This is technology not for the sake of technology, but technology designed to meet the needs and wants of customers."

As Ford introduces EPAS in more vehicles, it will be able to offer Active Parking Assist in more models. In addition, Ford is working on using EPAS and other sensors for other smart technologies, including one that could prevent a vehicle from drifting out of lane on the highway.

Active Park Assist works in tandem with other new technologies that will be offered on the 2010 MKS and MKT and other Ford Motor Company vehicles, including Blind Spot Information System (BLIS™) and Cross Traffic Alert. BLIS employs a sensor on the outboard rear quarter panel that monitors the traditional blind spot area, and can notify the driver with a warning indicator light in the corresponding side view mirror if the sensors in this optional system detect a vehicle in the blind spot. Cross Traffic Alert uses BLIS sensors to help detect cross traffic when backing out of a parking space.

More details about the new Lincoln MKT seven-passenger luxury crossover will be available when it debuts at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.

The Lincoln MKS sedan – which went on sale this summer with strong initial sales that have helped Lincoln gain share in the luxury segment in the second half of this year – raises the bar on exclusive technologies offered in a luxury car. The Lincoln MKS features:

Adaptive Cruise Control, which allows the driver to set and maintain the vehicle's speed, while a radar monitors traffic ahead. This optional system automatically adjusts speed and slows the vehicle to maintain the set distance behind traffic ahead.

Intelligent Access with Push Button Start, which allows the driver to enter the Lincoln MKS and start the engine without using the key. Drivers simply carry the special fob as they approach the vehicle, touch the keyless entry keypad on the B-pillar, open the door and, with the brake pedal engaged, start the engine by pushing a button.

SecuriCode™ Keyless Entry Keypad, which is the next generation of a feature familiar to many Lincoln owners. It allows access to Lincoln MKS by unlocking the driver's door by entering a pre-set five-digit code. The newest version is now flush-mounted to the B-pillar with backlit numerals that illuminate to the touch.

Adaptive Headlamps with Standard High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Lamps, which enhance nighttime visibility by illuminating more of the road ahead. Sensors monitor the vehicle's speed and steering wheel input to engage headlamp movement and increase the driver's field of vision.

Rain-Sensing Wipers, which use an optical sensing system to gauge precipitation and automatically activate and adjust the wipers. The Lincoln MKS driver can choose among five sensitivity settings.

EasyFuel™ Capless Fuel-Filler System, which provides a hassle-free and more consistent seal than a manual fuel cap. EasyFuel self seals when refueling is complete.

SYNC, which is standard on the Lincoln MKS. This award-winning voice activated communications and entertainment system developed by Ford and Microsoft fully integrates Bluetooth®-enabled mobile phones and digital media players into the vehicle. SYNC incorporates 911 Assist, which can notify a local 911 emergency operator in the event of an air bag-deploying incident. SYNC Vehicle Health Report feature can keep the driver notified of scheduled maintenance, service intervals and vehicle system health information.