Technology Review has an article on making information about free parking spaces available, allowing people to waste less time and fuel hunting for somewhere to leave their cars - Finding a Parking Space Could Soon Get Easier.
Anyone who's driven in a crowded downtown knows that parking can mean almost endless circling in the hunt for a space close to your destination. Now engineers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have combined simple ultrasonic sensors, GPS receivers, and cellular data networks to create a low-cost, highly effective way to find the nearest available parking space.
The Rutgers researchers say that making detailed parking data widely available via Web-based maps or navigation systems could alleviate traffic congestion by allowing travelers to decide whether to park in a central garage, hunt for street parking, or choose another mode of transportation in advance. If drivers choose street parking, it could help by suggesting parking spaces to users through a navigation device or cell phone.
The team, led by assistant professors Marco Gruteser and Wade Trappe, mounted ultrasonic distance sensors on the passenger-side doors of three cars. Using data collected over two months as the drivers commuted through Highland Park, NJ, the researchers developed an algorithm that translated the ultrasound distance readings into a count of available parking spaces that was 95 percent accurate. By combining this with GPS data, they also generated maps of which spaces were occupied and which were open that were over 90 percent accurate.
Traffic congestion is a huge problem nationwide, particularly in downtown areas. A study by Transportation Alternatives, a New York City transportation advocacy group, found that up to 45 percent of the traffic in Manhattan is generated by cars circling the block looking for parking. In 2006, Donald Shoup, a professor in the department of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, calculated that, over the course of a year, vehicles looking for parking in one small business district of Los Angeles burned 47,000 gallons of gasoline and produced 730 tons of carbon dioxide. The problem is so serious that some cities, such as San Francisco, have invested millions of dollars in "smart parking infrastructure"--systems that detect the presence of vehicles in parking spots using fixed sensors installed into the asphalt or in parking meters.