2012
08.03

I may have the connected-car bug. Recently my colleague Laura Black wrote about her experience with connected technology in the automobile. She detailed her test of the Acura’s ILX and expressed delight at the GPS-linked temperature control system.

How cool, I thought. I wish my car could do that. Now, after having a connected-vehicle experience of my own, I’m even more excited about what technology can do for the drive.

My sister just purchased a new Ford Escape, and I got a first-hand look at all the cool things it can do. The car is chockfull of sensors. The liftgate at the back is activated automatically by motion technology when the driver kicks underneath the vehicle. As long as you have the key fob in your pocket or purse, the car senses your kick and opens the hatch. The Escape has SYNC, and the color touchscreen is pretty nice, as is the voice-activated system. As we drove, I was able to call out radio stations and phone numbers, and the car would do my bidding.

But the Escape has safety on its mind as well, and if my sister tried to manually push too many buttons while driving, the car gave her a bossy audible warning to use the voice commands. Occasionally, the car didn’t understand the commands, which can be frustrating, but overall it worked pretty well.

These were all cool functions, but the technology I most wanted to see—and the one that impressed me the most—was the active park assist. This function parallel parks the car automatically, and I had been curious to see this in action since first hearing about it.

Though she was also excited to try it out, my sister was nervous about trusting it the first time. She asked if my husband and I could park on the street and leave a space between for her to try out the system, since she’d prefer not to test it with “real people’s cars.” It’s ok, I know what she meant.

We left an average-sized space, then jumped in the Escape to watch the magic. Sensors in the car determine if the space is big enough, and then steer the car into the spot. All the driver does is run the brake and gas. Well, it was amazing. The touchscreen provided instructions on exactly when to brake and when to put it in reverse and drive. The car handled all the steering, expertly placing the vehicle close to the curb (but not too close) and doing it on the first try, which is better than my parallel-parking skills.

Sensors are also used in the Escape’s BLIS (Blind Spot Information System), which provides alerts when a vehicle is detected entering a blind spot. Alerts are also sounded if traffic is detected approaching from the sides, such as when you’re leaving a parking space in reverse.

After experiencing the all-new Escape, I have a better understanding of just what connected-car systems are capable of. I have to admit, I’m a little star struck.

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