Who Wants to Change the Way We Look at Parking Guidance Technology?
An interview with Chris Scheppmann
As a finance major at Point Loma Nazarene University, Chris Scheppmann expected to have a career in banking. But after graduating in 2010, and then earning an MBA in 2012, his career path took an unexpected turn that ultimately led to parking. Today, he manages two different parking technology companies as president of Access Professional Systems (APS) and managing member of EnSight Technologies. It’s in this latter role that he is working to redefine parking guidance and occupancy management technology. And both the parking industry and San Diego’s local business community have taken notice. Last year he was named to 40 Under 40 lists by both the San Diego Business Journal and the National Parking Association. Yet, with everything he has going on, Chris still makes time for personal interests like surfing, camping, competing in triathlons and being a dedicated father to his two young boys.
PT: So, how does an MBA student with designs on a banking career end up in parking?
CS: I didn’t immediately come to parking. After undergrad, I went to work at APS Technology Group, a company that developed optical character recognition technology. The company used cameras to track and scan containerized cargo, transmitting the information into inventory management systems to increase the efficiency of the supply chain. With clients and systems in over 14 countries worldwide and the largest port in the United States in our backyard, LA/Long Beach, you can image how beneficial the technology is. I went from being an installation technician traveling the globe installing systems to understanding the interworking of the technology from the ground up. I quickly moved into a business development role managing North America and supporting channel partners in APAC, and continued in that role when the company was purchased by ABB.
I worked at ABB until 2016, when I joined Access Professional Systems.
PT: What led you to APS?
CS: Access Professional Systems is an access control company that was started by my father Russell Scheppmann in 1977. The company started as a garage door company run out of my grandparents’ house and evolved into a leading provider of gate automation, commercial doors and access automation systems. My father has been a serial entrepreneur his whole life, starting multiple companies, and APS was the cornerstone that provided the flexibility to find new verticals and start complimentary businesses. In 2002, my father created a technology and software spin-off called APS Technology Group. That’s where I started. So, coming to APS was really a return to where I started.
I returned to APS as president in 2016 and have been running it ever since.
PT: So, where does parking guidance come into the picture?
CS: At APS we bid on parking revenue system projects, and a common theme was that everyone wanted the ability to help parkers find the best available parking spaces with parking guidance technology. The problem was that single space guidance systems were too expensive for most of the operations we were talking to and looped-based systems were super inaccurate. So, in 2018 I decided to start my own parking guidance technology company using vision-based technology.
I started by calling my good friends and prior software developers at APS Technology Group and asking them whether they could design a camera-based guidance system with machine learning. If we could track and scan containerized cargo and semi-trucks, why couldn’t we change the game in tracking, scanning, and counting cars? The machine learning element was key because I wanted the technology to be able to keep up with the introduction of new types of transportation like micromobility, as well improvements to vehicle technology like self-driving vehicles and self-parking cars. After some quick meetings we were convinced that we could do it, so we got to work. And we sold four projects right out of the gate!
The first version of our intelligent camera system took about a year to develop and was built on computer vision technology. Version 2 took about a year and a half and was built on an AI machine learning platform.
I’m proud that we got it right. Our platform and object detection models, scanning, and object tracking are all handled by our proprietary software. We didn’t just redesign something that was already out there, we created something entirely new. And we’ve achieved levels of accuracy that in the past was only available with expensive single space systems.
We believe that vision systems will be the crux of parking automation now and in the future.
PT: How does the system work?
It’s very simple, really. We place cameras at the entrances and exits of garages or parking lots, and on individual floors. We can even track individual specialty spaces. Individual cameras collect data about how many vehicles enter and exit the garage, floor, or row and transmit that information to strategically located signs.
The software is what sets the system apart and provides its incredible accuracy. It can recognize different types of vehicles and individual license plates and license plate profiles. And because it has machine learning, it will grow and adapt as new types of vehicles are introduced. Scalability is essential to the success of parking technology and in this case, we aren’t just talking about the ability to expand. The system can actually evolve as vehicles evolve. We believe that vision systems will be the crux of parking automation now and in the future, allowing us to scale not only our parking guidance and occupancy manager systems, but introduce new areas of scale for process automation and paid parking.
PT: Does this mean the technology can do more than count cars?
CS: Exactly! With the cameras you can scan plates to permit frictionless parking and automatic payment. You can record inside the structure to improve security. Outside the parking facility, you can even use the cameras for curb management.
PT: How would that work?
CS: Remember that the system can identify different types of vehicles, so it can recognize when unauthorized vehicles use the curb improperly or stay too long. The cameras can recognize delivery and non-delivery vehicles and identify license plate signatures. Then it can be set up to inform enforcement officers so they can be dispatched to get the vehicle moving or give a ticket. It can be used for curb management on city streets, at hospitals and airports, and even in private developments. It’s completely customizable so it can be set up to address any owner’s unique curb management needs.
PT: Do you see a use when it comes to Smart Cities?
CS: Absolutely! We are already seeing it here in California. For instance, Redwood City has a mandate that every private parking facility that operates after work hours have a way to count cars and report back to the city. Intelligent camera technology is part of the smart city ecosystem. A system like ours can record occupancy levels of garages and lots throughout the city and then report back to the city’s systems. As cities introduce their own parking or transportation apps, drivers can use those apps to find available parking close to their destinations. The technology is so accurate that drivers can access real-time information at any moment.
PT: I would think that the technology would be good for parking studies, too.
CS: Yes, in fact we just finished a three-month study at the San Diego Zoo on behalf of Ace Parking. Ace wanted to know how many vehicles were using the zoo’s parking lot every day and how long they were staying. In the past, they would have had to hire a consultant to do hand-counts or monitor pneumatic lines or loops, which can be costly to administer and reconcile data. We were able to install a handful of cameras at entrances and exits to accurately count occupancy and provide information about peak occupancy. I think that, in the future, most parking utilization and traffic studies will be done like this.