Innovative Solutions for Parking are Part of "Smart Cities" Projects Advancing technology in the fo
Advancing technology in the form of wireless sensor networks (WSNs) is enabling efficiency and raisi
The challenge of finding a public parking spot in an urban city can spoil an important meeting or night on the town before it even begins. Endless searches for affordable parking waste a great deal of time and are a powerful source of driver anxiety and frustration.
When scores of motorists are puttering around the city all at once, turning aimlessly in hopes of finding some hidden parking garage or miraculous curbside spot, exhaust from their vehicles chokes the air and pollutes the environment with carbon dioxide, making city life less pleasant and more unhealthy.
This is especially true as a growing share of the world’s expanding population continues to be urbanized, and as sustainability issues, including those related to parking, become ever more crucial. The problem is clear, but what’s the solution?
A Solution for the Future
As today’s technology gives people the ability to work more quickly, powerfully and efficiently, it’s now beginning to do the same for our cities. “Smart Cities” projects are underway in Europe, Asia and other areas worldwide, and are making important strides in dealing with urban issues such as noise, lighting, air quality, waste management, infrastructure, traffic, and, yes, parking.
Wireless sensor networks can be deployed along with actuators, cameras and displays to gather data and communicate information to citizens, including drivers.
A Spanish Example
For instance, in Santander, Spain, as part of a comprehensive Smart City project called SmartSantander, such networks now identify available parking spots, and drivers looking to park are alerted through interactive maps on their smartphones and public visual display panels. Several organizations came together as a team to bring SmartSantander to life. Telefónica I+D led the project, with supervision by the University of Cantabria, based in the city. Libelium was responsible for the sensor technology, and systems integrator Idom took care of deployment.
In Santander, independent sensor networks were created in different zones that can detect via magnetic fields whether a parking spot is available or occupied. To accomplish this, magnetic sensors are buried under paved parking spaces in a waterproof casing. Data are continually tabulated, updated and transmitted, giving vehicle commuters and other drivers information on where to park.
Throughout Santander, and other “Smart Cities” with smart parking applications, drivers are saving gas and benefitting from the convenience and efficiency that the technology makes possible. Just as important, the cities themselves are reducing levels of CO2 in atmospheric pollution in accordance with the overall reduction in traffic congestion.
The enhanced efficiency of smart applications also has cost benefits. In addition to savings in areas of energy and productivity, the greatest benefits relate to the “time is money” dictum. In the case of parking lot operators and municipalities that rely on parking revenue, smart parking helps ensure that available parking spots are filled as quickly as possible.
Parking revenue can only occur when vehicles are parked, and not contributing to city traffic (and pollution). Imagine the amount of time disconcerted motorists spend trying to find places to park, and then imagine charging for all that time – it’s easy to see how much revenue is otherwise lost.
Viable for the Long Haul
The effectiveness of smart parking deployments is long-lasting. Smart parking sensor networks can remain in place for years and are easily upgraded over a radio network through what’s called “over-the-air” programming.
This means that parking spaces utilizing the technology remain untouched, except when it comes time to replace the sensor’s batteries, which – since its nodes need to transmit only when the status of a parking spot (occupied or available) changes – can last for up to five years.
The sensor nodes themselves are prime examples of sustainable, low-energy consumption “smart” devices. They rely on little power, and their communication protocols have been designed for long-term usage. Such low maintenance makes it possible to deploy networks with hundreds of nodes relatively easily, giving cities the opportunity to ramp up smart parking solutions with widespread coverage and to add new services without the need to interrupt the network.
Coming to a City Near You
So, for urban-area drivers, and citizens, chin up, help is on its way. The parking nightmares and traffic jams that are all too common when venturing downtown by car will one day be obsolete. Smart parking solutions will see to that. Likewise, smart cities adopting such solutions will be raising their quality of life and will be among the vanguard of urban sustainability.
Smart parking will benefit everyone, in fact, whether or not they drive a car.
Alicia Asin, Co-Founder and CEO of Libelium, can be reached
@aliciaasin on Twitter. More information on the architecture
and technical details of SmartSantander can be found at