Even if you're not of a 'certain age', the size of some multi-level parking lots with their dozens of indistinguishable levels and rows of cookie-cut SUVs can prove testing on the old 'gray matter' when it comes to finding the car you left there a few hours previous.

Reassuringly you aren't alone, which is why Santa Monica Place recently unveiled the nation's first "Find Your Car" system. Confused motorists can type in their licence plate number into a kiosk touch screen and using camera scanning technology, the system will find your car and show you its location.

Clearly this relies on you remembering your licence plate, which isn't a certainty given that you've managed to misplace a whole car. This unfortunately proved the case for the hapless Andrea Minnich of San Pedro: "It might help if I knew my licence plate offhand, but I don't".

For those with memories for numbers rather than spaces, the technology is proving useful. There are concerns it could be useful for more than just the owners, though. Some feel the technology is another step towards a Big Brother scenario. With 24/7 surveillance or the possibility of some of society's less favourable members using it as an automated shopping list for cars to steal, the idea has its downsides.

Chris Calabrese from the American Civil Liberties Union, asks "What if a divorce attorney came and asked who was in the mall? Or someone looking to repossess vehicles for past nonpayment?... The unintended consequences can be huge."

On the plus side, 'They' might not be able to find you anyway, as the system still has a few bugs. If you've recently bought your car and don't have plates for it yet, it can't help you. Your only option is to walk around plipping your remote until one of the cars unlocks. The scanner has also had difficulties recognizing some licence plate numbers.

Big Brother concerns or not, there are clearly benefits to the system and if it reduces stress levels before stepping behind the wheel that can only be a good thing. There are plans to roll out the system worldwide, and furniture company Ikea has expressed their interest in using the system in Europe to help shoppers in the stores' vast parking lots.

In the meantime, there are plenty of cell phone apps dedicated to finding your car, and if you're technologically challenged then scribbling your car's location on a piece of paper is always an option.

Now, if only I could find where I live...

[L.A. Times]