Parking Technology: Saving Time and Space

self-parking technology for connected cars

Finding a place to store your car, whether short- or long-term, has been an issue almost as long as the horseless carriage has been around. The current influx of automobiles on the road, however, has made simply parking that much harder. This growth of  vehicles on the street has added unforeseen circumstances to the parking mix.  Things like traffic congestion, higher CO2 emissions, exorbitant fees, and parking so far away from your destination, you need to call another vehicle for that ”last mile” are big concerns. This has led to innovative advances in parking technology ranging from License Plate Recognition (LPR) to monitor who does and does not belong in a particular space to working with the brains of connected cars to support self-parking solutions.

The new way to grab a parking space

interactive parking space locator

Parking technology has been advancing for some time. The “drive in and find a spot” off-street parking lot and “parallel park it then drop in a quarter” on-street parking meter have already evolved. Advances in LPR technology help law enforcement and parking managers monitor license plates in off-street parking structures, while penalties for on-street parking expirations have decreased thanks to “type in your text number to receive a ‘time’s almost up’ alert” meters (at which you can pay with a credit or debit card). Those shifts, however, still aren’t enough to battle space limitations and traffic congestion. New, innovative parking technology is being enlisted and is typically split across four distinct areas: parking software solutions, automated parking structure systems, parking apps, and self-parking capability in connected cars.

Parking software and how it works

This parking technology provides interactive solutions that allow users to manage and oversee various parking garages, spaces and lots from a desktop and/or mobile device. Companies gather information on open spots, infractions, security issues, flow and more through the cloud and share that information with drivers and law enforcement. Per Capterra.com, a company that provides comparisons and info on various software over a range of businesses, the following three solutions are among the best parking management products.

ParkAdmin

Created by Tomahawk Technologies, the Operations Commander (OPS-COM) program allows clients to pay for their parking permits, violations and check their accounts via mobile or the internet. OPS-COM works with universities, colleges, local governments and other organizations.

iParq Parking Management System

This software manages parking permits, citations and advance sales for events as well as real-time cash and credit transactions. Its clients range from places of higher education to private operators and more.

Silvertrac Software

This is both a security and parking management software. It offers several services that streamline not only guard duties, but parking issues and general maintenance of sites. It makes it possible to handle all needs digitally and for security guards to manage several sites via their smartphones if needed.

Parking with robots

Automated parking solutions are those that incorporate robotic systems and space saving techniques to streamline and revolutionize existing garages. The vendors are innovative, presenting and providing both the hardware and software to support the goal of smarter use of space and time. Three of the companies currently building this unique parking technology are Parkmatic, Pari Car Parking and Perfect Park.  Each of these companies provides a unique automated system that uses robotics and stacking to park cars more efficiently. Drivers relinquish their vehicle at a designated spot at the car park, activate the system at a kiosk and the automobile is then whisked away to be automatically parked. When the owner returns, he or she retrieves the automobile usually by punching in a code at a keypad or inserting a card/parking ticket. The vehicle is automatically picked up and returned to him or her.

This parking technology is a huge space saver. No matter how proficient we may be at putting our cars into a parking spot, we have inherent limitations: ourselves. We need a certain amount of wiggle room to exit and enter our vehicles. Automated parking garages maneuver cars into smaller spaces without causing damage to the car or discomfort for the driver.

Automated garages are more prevalent overseas than in the U.S., like the nine-story robotic facility at the Emirates Financial Tower (EFT) in Dubai, which was unveiled in 2013. However, with the rise in traffic congestion, urban sprawl, population growth and loss of space, more of these robotic parking lots are being built in America.

The all-inclusive Bosch solution

At the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the 130+ year-old engineering and electronics company, Bosch, presented an as yet unnamed all-electric, highly interactive, customizable concept car. Parking technology is included in the vehicle, which not only autonomously parks your car, but locates a space for you.

On the Bosch website, mobility solutions include self-park capability as well as parking innovation to manage lots, point a driver to an available parking space and create smarter parking garages, just to name a few. This all-inclusive solution claims to be capable of decreasing CO2 emissions due to lowering the need to drive around looking for a spot and increase free time by 60 hours per year per driver.

Parking technology in the mobile ageapp enabled parking technology

Other entrants in the parking technology race are parking apps, either city sponsored or independent, that help drivers find spaces and save money. This digital parking technology is easily accessed via your mobile-device and helps drivers by locating open spots, helping them reserve and pay for spaces in advance and more—all from their cell phone or tablet. The apps cut down on the time spent and gridlock caused cruising around looking for a parking spot.

Self-parking technology expanding

While fully autonomous vehicles may still be in the test phase, many models are equipped with self-parking technology, also known as parking assist systems. Self-parking is accomplished two ways: vehicles equipped to literally park themselves and cars that assist you with parking.

But how does all of this work? Self-parking technology is most frequently used for parallel parking. For the most part, even the smartest vehicles require someone behind the wheel to navigate into a parking spot. Once the self-parking system is engaged, which is usually done by a flick of a switch or the press of a button on the center console, it uses sensors to detect an appropriately sized space in which to pull.  These sensors work in two different ways: ultrasonic and electromagnetic.

Ultrasonic technology

self-parking technology using ultrasonic sensors

Ultrasonic sensors attach to the front of a vehicle’s bumper and calculate the distance to obstacles via sound waves. They emit an audio signal when another vehicle or object is sensed—the system can determine the distance between the automobile itself and whatever deterrent it’s facing. The closer the car gets to the object, the faster the signal sounds. These are fairly inexpensive and can detect obstacles even when the car is idle. However, affixing the sensor to the bumper can mar the car’s appearance, tow bars and bike racks can’t be attached or they will block the sensors, and the field of detection can only sense front to back, often missing small objects and the radio waves scatter on steep inclines.

Electromagnetic detection

self-parking technology using electromagnetic waves

Electromagnetic sensors work off of electromagnetic waves that create a field around the bumper so that whenever an object enters the wave barrier, a signal is triggered. These can be placed inside the bumper and used with tow bars and bike racks. They are more expensive than ultrasonic and can only detect objects when the vehicle is moving.

In addition to these sensors, there are in-vehicle cameras that capture the environment and obstacles around the automobile and send it to the car’s on-board computer. The driver then manages the gears and braking while the self-parking system steers and maneuvers. This makes parallel parking easier and faster, alleviating traffic congestion to a certain extent and eliminating fender benders.

Parking technology goes truly driverless

console showing self-parking technology

As the self-driving car becomes more of a reality, advanced self-parking systems are as well. This means regulations need to be put in place to make the technology a reality on the streets. In January 2016, then Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary, Anthony Foxx, approved a request by BMW to initiate the self-parking technology for its 2016 7 Series models sold in the U.S. The move is part of DOT’s goal to support continued development of self-driving car technology. Regulations require the driver to stop the car, place it in park and remain standing within six feet of the automobile as the vehicle is parked via a remote control that prompts the sensors and cameras on the car so the automated system can maneuver it into a space successfully. The driver has the option to stop the process at any time.

Concerns over self-parking technologies and robotic garages

sample of what could happen with self-parking technology and automatic garages

As with driverless cars in general, there are plenty of concerns over automating the operation of a machine that engages with the public in so many different ways. The idea of making something as delicate as navigating into a parking space or garage, whether on-street or off-street, completely autonomous raises a good many questions about safety. As smart parking becomes more truly driverless, issues with failures surface and ensuring that these problems don’t continue is the number one priority.

Even with all of this, however, robotic parking garage and self-parking technology innovations are bound to be implemented. The glitches of the first attempts are now being worked out and consideration is being taken as to what is required to make both successful around the world.

A smart answer to traffic congestion

Parking throughout the world is at a premium and our tendency to slow down to a crawl to make sure we grab an open spot causes congestion. And when we slow down, that slows everyone behind us down… and the ones behind them… and the ones behind them…

This is called the “ripple effect” or “traffic wave.” It’s a common cause of gridlock on the highway. With parking, however, this is exacerbated, because not only is the offending automobile going at a snail’s pace, once it finds the spot, it needs to maneuver into it. This street parking debacle during busy and peak times causes frustration, tons of CO2 emissions and more congestion.

This is where smart parking technologies can alleviate the problem. The ability to be guided to a parking space quickly and efficiently helps the driver go directly to a spot without having to cruise around and hold up traffic. Add to that self-parking technology which intends to make that parallel parking moment faster and smoother. While other cars have to wait while the vehicle is going into the spot no matter what, the systems being created today greatly decrease wait time and restore the flow of traffic.

open space on the street

In need of solutions that make space

2016 saw an historic high in auto sales in the U.S.—a record 17.5 million new cars were sold—and 2017 looks to be on target to show a steady rise globally. With the automotive industry putting more and more cars on the road, finding a place to store them for the short or long term is going to be even more difficult. Automated parking garages and self-parking technology are solutions that make sense for a more space efficient, congestion-free future in our cities and on our roads.

 

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Traffic Congestion: 10 Paths to Global Relief

RushHourTrafficJam

Traffic congestion at rush hour

You get ready for the day, hop in your car and off you go onto the expressway, highway, freeway, street and…crawl. Stop. HONK! You get an overwhelming urge to weep, scream and/or jump out and start pummeling the cars around you (and if you do, who could blame you?), because today, as with every day, you’ve encountered traffic congestion.

Those two seemingly harmless words are no laughing matter. Traffic congestion has a grueling effect not just on your vehicle, but the environment and your physical and emotional well-being. Studies have shown that 60% of the world’s population will end up living in cities by 2030 and experts predict this will make cars more essential and gridlock more prevalent.

If our cities are only getting bigger – mega cities are already blowing up around the world – we need to embrace their size. Progress is inevitable, so how do we innovate road travel? And what is the role of government in this?

Innovating through technology and forward thinking

From mobile apps tracking and sharing real-time travel information to actual vehicles created to make life and your commute easier, several unique and thought-provoking solutions are being created to deal with traffic congestion today. Public officials and private companies are working both separately and together to prepare for the influx of larger populations and expanding transportation needs. It’s research that is necessary to ensure the best possible outcome for our global infrastructure.

Here are 10 ways private and public organizations are innovating to loosen up our gridlocked future.

1. Incorporate adaptive signal control technology

You’re in a left-hand turn lane that has its own turn signal, but you end up sitting through three cycles before you can move. Or you’re at an intersection waiting for the light to change for what seems forever and when it finally does, only four or five cars can get through before it turns red again. How did that happen?

In some smaller areas, intersections have sensors under the road that detect when a car pulls up. This signals the need for a light change. Larger cities may work on timers that are based on peak hours, not actual flow. While traffic patterns have changed over the years, these devices haven’t kept up, which has led to that red light/green light disparity.

Welcome to adaptive signal control technology (ASCT), the solution to poorly-timed traffic lights. This innovation adjusts the green, yellow, red light flow to actual driving conditions. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is fast at work to move it from test to implementation throughout the United States. This will bring about a radical and effective change in the fight against traffic congestion on a grand scale.

2. Promoting “smart” public and private partnerships

One of President Obama’s last acts in office was the 2015 allocation of $160 million to research and develop “smart cities.” Part of that is to reduce traffic congestion throughout the country and includes a collaboration between public officials, scientific minds and private companies. That money has been allocated across several programs meant to encourage effective incorporation of IT solutions to support better living conditions. These funds also help cities get in front of the inevitable population explosion that will create issues for their infrastructure.

3. Publicly challenging the norm

Getting an entire country to embrace such concepts as designated bus lanes, multimodal solutions, self-driving first/last mile shuttles and car-free zones is a monumental task. Both FHWA and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) know this and are working hard to move the U.S. to a better system before it’s too late.

FHWA has created several reports that highlight the effects of and suggested solutions to congestion. These are great resources for understanding the issue and how lawmakers can address the problem more effectively.

DOT recently took a more novel approach to encouraging and implementing traffic control. It created the Beyond Traffic Smart City Challenge. The contest encouraged cities to pitch ideas on how they would streamline and automate their local infrastructure to make travel easier, cleaner and more efficient. The prize was an up to $40 million pledge and was awarded to Columbus, Ohio in July 2016.

4. Engaging connected cars to battle traffic congestion

Automobiles are already being outfitted with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication technology. These connected cars will “speak” to each other as well as transfer information to and from various parts of a city’s transportation system for a smoother, safer drive.

With V2V, automobiles will be able to know just how far they are from another car and adjust automatically, without the driver’s having to do a thing. V2I could help synch traffic lights to create better flow and get roads to “tell” a vehicle when there’s danger up ahead (ice, potholes, etc.). The potential is huge and has automakers chomping at the bit to get legislation that will allow them to add this to all of their fleets. However, these technologies aren’t just something the car industry is pushing. Lawmakers all over the world are seeing the potential for a more sustainable, safer and well-traveled future with these systems in place.

The NHTSA submitted a report in June 2016 that outlines the need and makes suggestions for V2V, specifically, to be installed in all automobiles. While the focus is on highway safety, the benefits also include clearing up traffic congestion and emissions.

DOT is awarding various grants to cities willing to test pilot projects that incorporate both V2V and V2I technologies. Tampa, Florida was awarded $17 million from the department to create a smartphone app that would deliver traffic flow information. Upwards of $25 million has been granted to both New York City and the state of Wyoming to test V2I communication with some of their public vehicles.

Cars’ “talking” to each other and the road already exists in some models. However, broader expansion is on hold as government and the auto industry await legislation that will do two things:

  1. Support implementing more robust V2V and V2I technologies in general.
  2. Establish a relationship with the FCC to be included in its radio frequency requirements for more expansive and effective “car talk.”

5. Manage and promote carpools

High-occupancy Vehicle Lanes (HOV), also known as carpool or diamond lanes, exist all over the world and are nothing new. The first one was implemented in the United States in 1969 on the Henry G. Shirley Memorial Highway in Northern Virginia in the stretch of road between Washington, D.C. and the Capital Beltway. It started as a bus-only lane and began including cars that carried four or more passengers in 1973.

Since that time, HOVs have been incorporated all over the country as a way to address gridlock. However, they’ve been managed with varying success. Actual carpooling is at an all-time low and it’s the goal of transportation departments around the world to encourage its expansion to combat traffic congestion and emission control.

Here are three things being done in the U.S. and abroad to accomplish this:

  • Rideshare incentive programs: From Southern California’s IE511.org to Oregon’s “Drive Less. Save More.” program, states around the nation are offering employers and employees incentives for carpooling, bike-sharing and even telecommuting to keep automobile use down.
  • Ride-hailing offering more true ride-sharing: Uber and Lyft are doing more to encourage genuine ride-sharing with their apps. They do this by offering lower rates to those who split their trip with 1 or more passengers.
  • Carpool app and option expansion: Smartphone applications and options for ridesharing are growing and becoming even more specific. For example, BlaBlaCar (blablacar.com) matches commuters in Europe, South America and Mexico. Carma Car (gocarma.com) is available in both the U.S. and abroad, and CarpooltoSchool is working with U.S. schools to overcome limited transportation problems and budget cuts to ensure successful student attendance.

All of these solutions are created either through initiatives supported by government, nonprofits or private enterprises to promote communal driving.

Changing the face of transport

Perhaps the biggest traffic congestion solution being promoted all over the world is a more efficient, accessible general system of transportation. Whether it’s grabbing a gondola in Venice, a ferry to take you across the Hudson in New York, sharing a bike in Paris or jumping onto the inexpensive, incredibly clean and uncrowded train in Seoul (considered one of the best in the world), dumping your car and going by alternative transport is becoming more prevalent in many cities. Taking these different modes of travel, however, isn’t always easy and the challenges are being addressed by both private companies and public officials.

6. One system to rule a multimodal world

various public transportation options to alleviate traffic conestion

A bus and streetcar wait at an intersection, showing multimodal potential

Multimodal is the ability to connect various types of public transport for easier access. This way of travel may be the best way to relieve traffic congestion if it can ever become more universal.

Like electronic toll collection (ETC), there is really no centralized pay system that gains you access to all of the different modes of municipal travel. For the most part, your bus pass won’t get you on the train or the subway or pay for the taxi or ride-hailing/sharing service to get you to and from the station. However, that is changing as countries around the world not only seek to promote less personal vehicle usage, but implement solutions. Japan, for example, offers both the prepaid Suica and Pasmo cards that allow limited multimodal travel and UK commuters can chose either the Oyster pass or Travelcard.

Other ideas in the works include involving cab and ride-hailing services for that First/Last Mile transfer as well as providing shuttles and upgrading the public transport experience to make it more appealing.

7. Renovating municipal travel

One of the issues surrounding public transport in many cities isn’t that commuters don’t want to take the bus, train, or trolley. It’s a variety of factors that include sharing the road with everyone else at peak hours, dirty vehicles, inconvenient schedules, stations located in unsafe areas, an inability to get to and from the transit stop to their ultimate destination and more. Lawmakers and private companies are hearing the complaints and while billions of dollars are being poured into a variety of programs to alleviate these issues, ridership is stalled in many cities.

Providing designated lanes for both bikes and buses has been proposed as a way to make these modes of travel more convenient and is seen as a better alternative. Implementing areas to shower, change, rest, eat and more are also being considered. It’s the goal to get people to take advantage of a system that already exists and that can curb gridlock and reduce air pollution. Thought leaders around the world are thinking up new ways to address this constantly, even in those cities that already top the “best of public transport” lists like New York, London, Paris and Seoul.

8. Crowdsourcing for real-time traffic updates

In the past, you could get traffic updates on the television or radio news during rush or peak hours. While this definitely was more helpful than taking off for your morning or afternoon drive without any information, it didn’t really prepare you for what might happen in real time, any time.

Enter crowdsourcing of traffic updates. This is all about the community’s sharing road conditions as it experiences them and wireless recognition through connected cars, digital infrastructure and more. The information is then loaded into a database made instantly available with just a touch of your finger on a smartphone screen.

Such apps as INRIX and WAZE are making driving smarter for motorists through this sharing. The data collected don’t just go out to motorists, but are also being communicated to transportation departments and media around the world. They provide updates on road conditions so issues can be fixed faster. Driver behavior is also delivered in an effort to rework the infrastructure to better support actual motorist reaction on the highway.

9. Unique traffic management

Some local governments have taken thought-provoking approaches to fixing traffic congestion in their areas. While they’ve been hit or miss, they are innovative and open the door to broader thinking. Here are three examples:

  • Driving by License Plate Numbers: In cities like Dubai and Bogota, the times and days certain cars are allowed to be on the road are based on the last few numbers of their license plates. Whether it’s odd day–ex. the 15th of the month and your license plate ends in 583–or a randomizing of the last few numbers on your tag that switches up annually, they are pushing toward fewer cars on the road and levying hefty fines on those who don’t follow the rules.
  • High-Priced Road to Purchase: Singapore charges hefty fees for car ownership in its quest to lower emissions and congestion. If you want to buy a vehicle, you have to first obtain a Certificate of Entitlement (COE). Purchasing is done via a bidding process that recently went as high as $57,000 local currency (more than $42,000 USD). This isn’t the cost to buy the car. It’s the cost to buy the permission to buy the car. It is a 10-year certificate that allows you to deregister the vehicle when it expires or to renew for another 10 years with another bid at that current rate.
  • Travel by Air: Several cities have begun to incorporate sky gondolas as a way of transporting their citizens through difficult-to-access areas and alleviate gridlock. Implementation has come at the hand of local officials in each of these areas and include the commuter cable cars of Metrocable in Medellin, Colombia, Mi Teleflorico in La Paz, Bolivia, and the Emirates airlines in London.

10. No cars allowed… PERIOD

car free zones are a thing of the past, present and future

Venice, Italy, one of the oldest car free zones in the world

Many cities have begun opting for car-free zones to battle traffic issues as well as pollution and noise. This is either implemented during certain times of the day or permanently. While this is nothing new – Venice, Italy has never allowed cars – it is something that is definitely spreading beyond quaint towns with narrow streets to urban centers choked with traffic. This is a municipal decision that local governments are enforcing and many citizens are embracing.

Pioneering transportation techniques is the key

vehicles traveling in the future

A futuristic view of transportation

Everyone – commuters, government, private companies, think tanks – is acutely aware of the issues facing our streets on a global scale. Transportation bills are addressing traffic congestion, even if they are not specifically calling them out. Getting lawmakers to move forward on auto legislation that markedly transforms everything from connected cars to eGovernment takes time, however, and ending that gridlock is vital to alleviating what we’re experiencing on the highway.

Technology and innovative thinking are believed to be the keys to beating the traffic problems the world is facing and will continue to battle as we grow. As thought leaders, legislators and private citizens consider our transportation future, investigating solutions that range from the simple to the sublime are creating a more streamlined, ecologically- and physically-friendly way to expand our cities.

 

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