A passion for cars and car safety technology drove Patrick Costa, Class of 2019 to create a parallel parking assist device that helps drivers safely and effectively maneuver into parking spaces—and Computer Science Innovations provided the perfect environment and resources to fuel its development.

“Driver safety and assistance is one of the largest sections of the automotive industry today, as many cars now come with optional safety sensors in addition to packages that can be added to a car,” observes Patrick of the fast-growing, billion-dollar industry. “But, given the high price and recent development of these packages, many drivers with cheaper or older cars wouldn’t have access to them.”

Patrick’s solution: ParkMate, an affordable three-part device featuring LIDAR, a laser sensing technology that maps and measures the distances of nearby objects.

“The main sensor case, shaped like a cylinder vertically cut in half, is placed on the outside of the car,” Patrick explains. “A magnet on the back of the case holds the sensor box in the middle of the right side of the car, allowing the sensor to read an open parking spot. The second and third components—the wiring box and user screen—are kept inside the car cabin. The sensor box is placed out of the way on the car floor, while the user screen can be placed in any location visible for the driver.”

Powering Up the Product

Patrick threw his project into gear by producing a design that could calculate a distance between two objects, then analyzing an array of distance sensors. Key to this early phase was consultation with Uber engineer and WT parent Brian Kirby, who reviewed Patrick’s design. “He spent about one hour helping me come up with a more efficient design and possibly improved sensor,” says Patrick. “His vital input set most of the groundwork for the final iteration of the project.”

ParkMate accelerated with the creation of a swiveling sensor system— “…allowing it to see across 180 degrees and map an open parking spot”— and repeated testing to check the sensor for accuracy: “Tests showed that the product could predict the space of an open parking spot with an error of about five centimeters.” Patrick then 3D-printed cases for each of ParkMate’s components.

Hours were devoted to ParkMate’s most challenging aspect: finding the sensor best suited for the product. “Multiple six to eight-hour sessions working straight through were spent on the weekends trying to test and calibrate a variety of distance sensors to accurately find distance,” remembers Patrick. “I was relieved once I had discovered a suitable sensor and was able to continue forward with the next step of my project.”  

Patrick’s perseverance and precision were critical, says Computer Science teacher and Department Chair, David Nassar. “His attention to detail and multiple tests made for the success of this project.”

Patrick—currently enrolled in a summer pre-college Design course at CMU, where he may study after graduating WT —says the project’s demands taught him patience and created a strong work ethic. He encourages other students to consider taking Computer Science Innovations, declaring it “a great way to explore new fields in a creative environment.”

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