The Foundation for Building a ‘Smarter’ City

December 19, 2017

Single-Space Detection

Matt Willenbrink

Many in the parking industry have had some experience with sensors in the past – many of those with mixed results. However, the sensors of 2017 are not the same as those of even a few years ago.

Advancements in technology – battery chemistry, long-term testing, “digital twins” decision-making, artificial intelligence, over-the-air updates, security and data analytics – make parking sensor systems much more reliable, accurate and cost-effective. These improvements now make parking sensor systems practical tools for today’s “smart” cities.

With more than two-thirds of the world’s population expected to live in urban areas by 2050, the evolution of urban infrastructure has never been more crucial. Imagine less-congested streets, lower operating costs, and services that can significantly improve quality of life – including better safety and security, and enhanced air and water quality.

Despite these advances and the desire to embrace technology, many cities struggle to get started. Technological paralysis and funding new initiatives are the greatest challenges for many communities. However, by simply starting with parking and transportation, a city can quickly pay for its entire “intelligent infrastructure” – all while delivering better services to residents and reducing “pain points” such as traffic congestion and pollution.

A recent parking study revealed that drivers spend an average of 17 hours per year searching for parking spaces on streets, in lots or in garages – costing Americans more than $20 billion annually.

These parking inefficiencies affect not only drivers but businesses and local shops as well. Some 63% of the nearly 6,000 U.S. drivers surveyed reported avoiding driving to stores and other destinations due to challenges in finding available parking. Difficulty in parking also was reported to lead to added stress or other quality-of-life issues.

These pain points are some of the leading factors contributing to the demand from drivers for change:

• 90% want real-time parking availability information.

• 88% want to search for the cheapest or closest parking spots.

• 87% want to be able to navigate directly to the parking spot.

• 74% want these data integrated with their navigation system.

While some solutions claim the capability to tell drivers when and where parking are available, nearly all used at-scale rely on indicative sensing or predictive algorithms to “guess” space occupancy status. However, there is such a low level of accuracy with these “guesswork” methods that drivers are not reliably finding available parking faster and easier – the key to solving the issues cited in the study.

Not only do indicative and predictive systems lead to ineffective wayfinding, they also leave many of the additional benefits of a smart parking system out of reach.

To truly build a successful smart transportation solution, real-time data are needed for every space – including multi-use lanes and restricted parking zones, such as those in front of fire hydrants and loading zones.

By sensing at this level of detail, cities can get an accurate snapshot of their parking ecosystem and can provide the wayfinding data that drivers demand. Single-space detection also gives cities more flexibility and opportunities to optimize parking inventory as goals evolve and change.

One change on the horizon is the advent of the autonomous vehicle. To meet the challenges they will create, cities must think about systems that can help them dynamically price their resources to prepare for that future.

Many envision massive fleets of vehicles, shuttling passengers to and from their destinations without the need to park. While this may seem ideal, many operators will plan their inventories for peak demand. However, during non-peak times, the demand will be significantly less, requiring vast numbers of parking spaces to accommodate idle vehicles. Cars will want to park at locations that maximize profit for the fleet – near areas where future demand is expected while consuming the least amount of fuel.

While some argue that these fleets may skip parking altogether in favor of continually circling, the increased vehicle loads would only add to traffic congestion, further driving up the price of trips, while making cities less efficient and safe.

Cities will need to proactively mitigate this trend to make parking much more attractive and easy for autonomous vehicles and fleet operators – a function that will require highly accurate data on every space. Those that do embrace the technology and adapt their parking infrastructure and transportation policies to more effectively accommodate autonomous vehicles will be poised for opportunities to expand, rather than reduce parking revenues.

Not only do indicative and predictive systems lead to ineffective wayfinding, they also leave many of the additional benefits of a smart parking system out of reach.

As cities look to solve issues beyond parking, they need to consider more than short-term needs. Adopting the Internet of Things is a strategic investment, and smart city deployments must be set up properly for business-critical, large-scale scenarios to adapt to changing requirements, while supporting future “connected” solutions that have yet to be created.

Parking and transportation should be viewed as the “low-hanging fruit” of a smart city design. When optimized to accurately collect data on every space, parking can not only rapidly pay for itself, but also subsidize further smart city initiatives moving forward.

Matt Willenbrink is VP of Brand Strategy at FYBR, a leading end-to-end IoT solutions provider that delivers real-time sensing data. Contact him at mwillenbrink@fybr-tech.com.