More U.S. drivers can soon expect to whip out their smartphones and find open parking spots using a digital map of their local streets. Such a solution could eliminate the tiresome routine of circling around the block countless times, help avoid heated arguments between strangers, and could even cut down on traffic congestion. But first, cities need a sensor network that is able to track everything from open parking spaces to illegally parked cars.
Now cities can buy a "smarter parking starter kit" that enables quick installation of wireless sensors at 200 to 500 parking spaces within a day. That allows cities to immediately begin using the parking management system created by Streetline, a San Francisco-based startup, with help from IBM's business-intelligence software called Cognos. Drivers can download Streetline's free "Parker" smartphone app from the iTunes store or Android marketplace.
"One reason we focused on parking, whether in large cities like New York City or San Francisco, or smaller cities like Raleigh, North Carolina, is that an estimated 30 percent of congestion in cities is caused by parking," said Vinodh Swaminathan, IBM's director of intelligent transportation systems. "A major solution is helping citizens find parking spots easily."
IBM discovered high levels of driver frustration in a new parking survey that coves 20 cities worldwide. Drivers spent an average of almost 20 minutes searching for parking spots, and almost six out of 10 had given up on searching for a parking space at least once in the past year.
If drivers give up on their shopping or dinner plans due to a lack of parking, that can translate into bad business for stores and restaurants. But IBM and Streetline say that small businesses can use the public parking information to see the impact on their bottom line when trying to find a new location. Similarly, cities can see take action by creating new parking spaces or having smarter street layouts.
"This will not only satisfy citizens, but also address small business solutions," Swaminathan told InnovationNewsDaily. "It allows cities to interact more efficiently with the business community by adding a new level of service that businesses can tap into."
Cities such as Fort Worth, Texas and Sausalito, Calif., have already jumped on board. Los Angeles plans to deploy Streetline sensors in its downtown $18.5 million L.A. ExpressPark project, so that it can even change parking meter prices dynamically to deal with the ebb and flow of demand.
But that's just the start for the Streetline partnership with IBM. The startup won IBM's SmartCamp World Finals and IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year in November 2010. It also shares IBM's vision of smart cities, in which sensor networks allow both citizens and city officials to put a finger on the pulse of city traffic, electricity supply and demand and water management.
"We're starting in parking today, but eventually you can envision this being used for measurement of pollution or to detect if a water pressure system in a fire hydrant is operating at the right pressure, or if a streetlight bulb needs to be replaced," said Kelly Schwager, chief marketing officer for Streetline, in an email. "There are a lot of smart city applications that can be built on top of this."