Editorial confession: we struggle when backing a trailer. We don’t feel this undermines our authority because if you’ve ever been out to Kerr Lake or Sharon Harris in the summer, you know we aren’t alone. It might be there’s a switch in our head that isn’t flipped, one similar to being ambidextrous or knowing how to dance. Whatever the case, the complex physics of making a trailer go where we want it to in reverse escapes us, and we need help.
Two German companies might be able to give us the help we need. ZF Lenksysteme is a partnership between ZF and Bosch that is responsible for producing power-steering-systems. They have developed a Smart Trailer Parking app that turns a car or truck into a remote-controlled vehicle.
At its heart, the app works using the same technology that allows newer cars to park themselves, tapping into the autonomous capabilities of electronic power-steering setups. Sensors are also integrated into the vehicle’s engine, transmission, and braking, with a position sensor attached to the trailer hitch that measures the relative position of the trailer to the car or truck.
Once everything is setup, a user can operate their vehicle via their smartphone. There are three speed settings, none of which exceed two-and-a-half miles-per-hour and all of which are halved in reverse. On screen, there’s a representation of the trailer and whatever is towing it. In reverse, the user slides the trailer to the desired angle. Going forward, the user slides the vehicle instead. In theory, this app is a reasonable way to visualize where a trailer is going while also keeping a constant angle.
As you would expect, there are some barriers to seeing this app available to the public. ZF Lenksysteme said it would be simple to install from a technical aspect, but what could really slow things down is the app’s legality. North Carolina would need to pass a law allowing someone to operate a vehicle without sitting behind the wheel. If it ever became relevant, we could potentially see such a law being passed with the proviso that someone is still sitting at the wheel, ready to take control if needed.
The prototype is also only on Android, but if the app came to mass market, we wager there would be an iOS version, too.
You can read more about the Smart Trailer Parking app and Car and Driver’s demo of it on their blog. There’s nothing saying something like this would have to be the norm, but for those of us without the requisite skill, an app like this could help us get the most out of our Ford F-150.
What do you think? Is this app a good idea, or should everyone learn how to back a trailer the hard way? Let us know next time you visit Leith Ford, your local Ford dealer in the Raleigh area.