I guess that I am in the wrong socio-economic class or something, since my 2011 Subaru Forester doesn't have anything like automatic parking or that nice toy, a rear-vision video display or even a sonar rangefinder to tell me where the other guy is. Are there really people out there who don't know how to parallel park (at least in theory, even if they try to avoid it)? When I got my driver's license (in Massachusetts, 1966), parallel parking was part of the driving test; you definitely had to be able to at least muddle through...
Great insights, HarryB. Mechanical design CAD system's Sketcher algorithms are often infuriating as they make inaccurate relation assumptions. I wrestled with them daily. Your point is clear: You have to already know what's right, and let the computer assist you in getting there a little quicker; Not just do it for you. ( I wonder if I can still do long-hand division-?)
Interesting, I got my first drivers license while living in Germany and back then if you couldn't parallel part you didn't get your license (as well as a few other parking manouvers). At that time I didn't know the math involved so I don't quite understand why this is used as a introduction to why we as engineers need to know the math behind technology systems. I still park within a few inches of where I want to without considering the math and will continue to do so. When I got my first car with ultrasonic park assist sensors (not actual parking, just beep before contact) I used it for about a week before I got so annoyed by this system that would tell me I was about to hit when I knew I had at least an inch or 2 to go, so I turned it off never to be used again. Really to the point (for parking) it's a matter of hand eye coordination, and while the math is certainly relevant to a computer performing what is a basic task for humans, it plays no part in how people solve the problem. I would wager that it's possible to have an engineer that can do the parking manouver on a calculator effectively but would fail at the actual task due to the lack of hand/eye coordination for the same basic reasons that an engineer could write a book on how to solder but may do rather badly at it (as most engineers I know seem to) :-) Machines just simply solve problems differently to the way we do, we only need the math to tell a machine how to do it.
Great post, Kevin. Just as young drivers should learn to parallel park their cars manually, engineers should be required to know the the physics of their particular products before they start making extensive use of computer tools. Sometimes, it can take years before an engineer fully grasps that physics. An engineering degree serves as a great foundation for learning, but nothing replaces experience. Good companies (and good senior engineers) will help new engineers gain that experience. It can sometimes be tempting for companies to circumvent that process, though, given the cost and speed advantages that computer tools provide.
The fact is that I never have had a car with an automatic parking system, and I would not want any of them that I have seen in the past 20 years, even if they were free. Part of my driving test when I got my license was to parallel park, and I passed it well. That was 50 years ago.
But if somebody lacks the insight and understanding to do some task then they are completely at the mercy of others to do it for them, or go without. And I see drivers almost daily who should not even be driving down a straight road, mostly because they lack the ability to pay attention to what they are doing, at least, not pay attention enough to drive safely. And I wonder how the automatic parking system handles exceptions, such as a pothole next to the curb. Does anybody know ?
The same concern is valid about a lot of engineering tools. As Bob Pease used to remark frequently, the simulation tools only deliver a quality that is at best as good as the model used. But if the model is not correct then the results will probably not be right either. They may be "good enough", but in that case then regular thinking should be able to provide as good an answer.
Relative to all that, way back at school we were told to apply the "Maselowski criteria" to analysis results. That criteria was the question, "Is this answer reasonable". That still holds true today. He may not have made a big point about that, but it has served me very well, and led to checking results prior to announcing them to others. Private math errors are much less embarassing.
It might be more important to consider if the "automated system" that parks your car had done so properly. Computer aided design tools are only useful if the user can recognise when they are being LIED to. Many times I'll run a Spice simulation and ponder why it did not give the expected result. Did I do something wrong, or did the program fail to get the answer I expected. Even if a user does not have the technical ability to do the task manually (hey, solder is my backup plan) they have to realize where the pitfalls lie. Too often this does not happen as users don't understand even basic principles, let alone rigorous analysis.
How about... What if your calculator couldn't do "long division"... or even "square roots"
I am amazed that many readers seem to discover this kind of system. It has been around in Europe for at least ten years and is very common, especially in compact and subcompact city cars. I own a Mercedes Class A of 2009 with this equipment and it works very well : it detects an empty space (right or left in one-way streets) while driving at less than 20 km/h and manages the steering for the parking; You just have to switch between D and R and brake according to the instructions. The system disconnects as soon as you touch the steering wheel (It is usually installed on cars with electrical power steering).
Accuracy is quite good and you end up parked along the curb with an offset of 6 inches +or- 1 inch...
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