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RP Siegel headshot

Ford's Parking Spotter Could Keep You From the Endless Hunt

Words by RP Siegel

If you’re a car company and you want to do something to help reduce carbon emissions, what do you do? You start by making your cars more efficient by bringing on new technology, like hybrid powertrains. Then you incorporate electric cars, and possibly fuel cells and, of course, clean up your own internal operations. Happily, most car companies today are doing all of those things, to one degree or another.

All of these are on the critical path, with many more improvements in the pipeline. Are there any other stones left unturned in the search for improvement? Ford thinks so.

The company recently announced that it's teaming up with Georgia Tech to develop a Parking Spotter app. As the name suggests, this app will help users locate a parking spot more quickly and directly. Sounds helpful, but will it have an impact?

A study performed by the UCLA Department of Urban Planning, which carefully monitored a 15-block urban area, found that drivers “drove more than 950,000 miles, emitted 730 metric tons of carbon dioxide and burned 47,000 gallons of gas, looking for parking.”

According to Mike Tinskey, director of vehicle electrification at Ford, only 12 percent of drivers “find a parking spot immediately, without some kind of hunting.”

Ford is not the first to enter the smart parking fray. Others have attacked the problem under the Smart Cities umbrella called Intelligent Transportation Systems. Most of these make use of sensors installed in the street which can determine whether a given spot has a car in it or not. LA Express Park, for example, uses an app called Parker that connects with sensors in 6,000 parking spots in LA. It looks like a GPS screen, except it has open parking spots flagged. It’s not hard to imagine that, someday, GPS systems will have a feature like this built in.

Imagine you’re driving in New York City, cruising for a parking spot, hoping it won’t take the entire evening to find one. Suddenly you get a call from a friend who happens to mention that he just saw an open parking spot a few blocks from your current location, which you head to directly.

Ford’s new Parking Spotter app recreates that scenario, but it reduces the element of chance (or the need to have a friend nearby). It uses existing driver-assist sensors that many vehicles already have, including sonar (ultrasound), and some prototype software, to, in essence, “use the vehicle as a probe.”

These sensors are able to search out empty parking spots as drivers are cruising around the city. The information is fed to a cloud database and made available to other connected drivers who might be looking for a spot. It is, in essence, a crowdsourced parking app.

According to Tinskey, the idea came about in response to the question, “How can we go about finding parking spaces so that when a person maps their route, to get from point A to Point B on their navigation, whether it’s their phone or in their vehicle, can we give them more information to get to their final destination?”

Various sources describe the information as being collected as drivers enter and exit a parking facility, or from sensor scans taken as the car drives through the city streets. In either case, the data is transmitted to a cloud-resident database where other drivers can access it as a way to find an available spot.

Dave McCreadie, Ford's manager of electric vehicle infrastructure and smart grid technology, emphasized the fact that the new application utilized components already on the vehicle. The ultrasound sensors are used for obstacle detection and as part of the hands-free parking feature. Examination of existing parking apps, such as Streetline or ParkMe, found that the data behind these apps is scarce. "Our vehicles enrich the data, providing more information to the cloud," McCreadie said.

This app will certainly give drivers a leg up in the hunt for a parking space. In the process, it will likely reduce fuel consumption, emissions, commute times and stress levels. For those without the app, I’m afraid the job of finding a spot just got a little harder.

One other point: Hopefully the parking app will be smart enough to tell you which spots are legal at that particular moment and how long they will remain legal. Most cities know how to inflict pain on those unfortunate souls who cannot successfully decipher the often-cryptic parking signs.

Image courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the successful eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP, who is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and Justmeans, sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he attended the World Future Energy Summit as the winner of the Abu Dhabi blogging competition.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com


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