Perfect parking by sonar

June 14, 1999|By Jonathan Takiff | Jonathan Takiff,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Ever bashed into a bicycle, trash can or (worse) plasterboard wall because you couldn't see over the hood while parking the car in a crowded garage?

If depth perception isn't your strength, Exeter Technologies' Park-Zone could be the ticket to an accident-free future. This electronic monitoring device visually tells when you are in the perfect parking position and should hit the brakes.

How it works: Park-Zone is composed of two wall-mounted pieces -- a small variation on a traffic signal with red, yellow and green lights (bright LEDs), and an ultrasonic transducer (the sensor), which attaches to the light signaler with a coiled cable.

Park-Zone's sensor is the microprocessor-controlled sonar detector that Polaroid uses to focus the lenses in its instant-print cameras. It emits "pings" and listens for a response. It detects whether the vehicle is within the sensing range (6 inches to 16 feet) and, if so, how far from where you should stop.

As you drive into the garage, a green light comes on, then a yellow light cautions you to slow down, and the red light shines when you are in the ideal park zone.

The device runs on four AA batteries, good for about a year. The Platinum edition Park-Zone includes an AC adapter.

Setting up: This is easy. You install the display unit on the garage's back wall within the driver's field of vision, using a supplied template and two screws. The sensor is mounted directly below the display unit at the same height as the bumper, usually 12 to 18 inches from the floor.

You drive the vehicle to the precise parking spot desired -- Exeter Technologies recommends you never leave less than one foot between your bumper and the wall. Then, tap the "activate" button on top of the display unit. (Make sure the path between the vehicle and the sensor unit is clear of obstacles.)

In a couple of seconds, the flashing of all three LEDs in sequence tells you that the unit has been successfully calibrated and that the set distance has been programmed into the memory.

Fine print: Exeter warns that the operation of this device can be thrown off if you drive into the garage fast. Under this circumstance, the unit may not sense the approaching vehicle until it's just 4 to 7 feet away. If your foot-to-pedal reaction time is slow, you might overshoot the mark. So, it's recommended that you allow for a variance of 6 to 12 inches during the Park-Zone setup.

A power outage will disable the sensor, requiring it to be recalibrated.

The sensor does not take kindly to water, so wash the car outside.

Our results: Being a slow and cautious garage approacher and nimble of foot, our parking experience has been superb with this device, landing on the mark precisly time after time. (Hint: Half-depress the brakes when the yellow light comes on.)

Yes, a pingpong ball suspended from the ceiling on a string so that it taps against the windshield achieves the same results, but would not be nearly as cool for us gizmo lovers.

Park-Zone precision parking device by Exeter Technologies, One Penn Plaza, Suite 4025, New York, N.Y. 10119. Prices: $59 for Standard model available at Kmart, Sam's Club; $79 for Platinum edition at Brookstone and Sharper Image.

Information: (888) EXETER1.

Pub Date: 06/14/99

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