The Magnetic Parking of Tomorrow!, or Ghost Ride Your Whip

September 14, 2008
Earlier this month, researchers performed a test run of a bus that basically drives itself. It follows a line of magnets embedded in the pavement, coursing exactly along its route and eventually to the bus stop. The tiny magnets on the bus and in the street guide the bus to the perfect parking position at the stop for picking up passengers. It's a cool idea, and a lot of transit agencies are interested. But there are wider applications.

Take, for example, my neighborhood, where nobody knows how to park.

If a bus can park itself at a bus stop automatically, why couldn't a car automatically park itself on a street? This magnet bus idea seems simple enough to translate. Let's examine:

The new magnet bus, a project of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, uses a computer system to sense the subtle directing of small magnets along the intended path of the bus. The computer’s detection of these magnetic forces controls a motor attached to the steering wheel of the bus. A human driver has to control the speed and the brakes, but can be literally hands-off while the bus follows the precise path laid out by the magnets -- which are apparently no stronger than the pizza joint fridge magnet that's holding up your kid's report card.