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Published: Monday, 12/18/2006

Look, no hands: UT seniors rig car to parallel park itself

Jordan Ruffer, left, Matt Chan, and Alan Imm prepare to install the parallel parking assembly on the car. Jordan Ruffer, left, Matt Chan, and Alan Imm prepare to install the parallel parking assembly on the car.

So, the $65,000 2007 Lexus LS can parallel park automatically. Big deal.

So can the 1991 Toyota Corolla that a group of University of Toledo engineering students rigged for a senior project.

Theirs was probably years and years in the making, said Alan Imm, of Edgerton, one of the UT team members. About halfway through the project, we found out about this Lexus. We were just, well, ours is homemade. It will probably look a lot cooler.

Cooler. Hmmm. In a way.

While the UT system is at least a tad less sophisticated than the computer-controlled, sensor-assisted Lexus system, and eensy bit heavier, and maybe just slightly inconvenient, it is a sort of driver wish fulfillment.

Anyone ever faced with a parking space too tiny to maneuver into has imagined spinning the steering wheel until the car s wheels are perpendicular to the curb. That s sort of the basis of the UT design.

The driver noses into the smallest space, and the parallel parking device lowers a set of steel wheels underneath the trunk. These wheels lift the car s rear end. Between the two wheels is a small tire, perpendicular to the curb.

With most of the car s weight on the steel wheels, the small tire begins turning, providing just enough friction to sidle the car into a tight space perfectly.

After we had the project working... I was out in Pittsburgh, looking for a parking spot and found one just big enough to fit a car in, but not big enough to maneuver. I thought, Man, I wish I had that parallel parking thing, said David Tran of Archibold, who proposed the group try creating a parallel parking assistant.

So, why didn t he have it with him?

Well, that s the thing. It works, but it s not really convenient. It weighs between 300 pounds and 500 pounds and takes up a good bit of trunk space.

After loading up the whole parallel parking device in the trunk, it just kind of weighed it down a lot. If you hit some nasty bumps, you definitely could bottom out. It could have potential to rip things off, said Mr. Tran, who now works for the Holland engineering group Sponseller Group Inc.

Making something practical enough to take to market would mean using different materials, and probably take a lot more time than the group could muster between jobs and attending classes.

Still, it was kind of cool to know something we did was just getting out there on the market, said Mr. Imm, who today works at Nemcomed in Hicksville.

Other team members included Jordan Ruffer of Stryker, Matt Chan from Greater Cleveland, and Nick Traut of Sandusky.

To see the UT parking device work, go to: youtube.com/watch?v=uir63vOhXeg

Contact Jenni Laidman at: jenni@theblade.com or 419-724-6507.

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