Autonomous cars have been creating some buzz in the news lately.  From coverage on their capabilities and advantages to warnings about their limitations and security issues, everyone seems to be curious about the autonomous car.  Something else is brewing within this new-age driving hoopla: a battle for control of the stick shift.  Computer-operated driving systems are quickly infiltrating our beloved cars, crossing the line from “human driver” to “automated chauffeur.”  Are you ready?

A lot of the talk surrounding these systems is acronym-heavy and the names change depending on the car manufacturer.  (I see they are already creating aliases to confuse the human competition!)  Here’s an easy-to-read, short guide to the systems that are bringing us closer to autonomous cars.

1. Park-Assist

This is the system that allows drivers who dislike parallel parking to sit back, relax, and let the car do it for them.  The existence of this system does not indicate an fully autonomous car—the driver still needs to help the car out with shifting.

How does it work? Although the computer takes over to maneuver the car into the parking spot, most systems still allow the driver to press the brake, controlling the speed of the system’s parking throughout the entire maneuver.  To begin, the car will indicate to the driver when to stop alongside the car it intends to parallel park behind.  The driver will need to shift into Reverse to allow the system to back the car into the space.  When the car determines it has finished this procedure, it will notify the driver to shift into Drive.  The car will then pull forward, evening out the spacing.  Finally, the car will notify the driver to put it into park.

Available in: Ford Focus Titanium, Toyota Prius V, Land Rover Evoque, Mercedes-Benz GL350 (just to name a few)