A New Parking App, No New Sensors Needed

Big-data company INRIX is increasingly reliant on location data crowdsourced from drivers using its navigation app for visibility into traffic—and now, parking availability.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 10, 2015

Cities have long been installing sensors along roadways—embedding them in streets or mounting them overhead—in order to better understand everything from traffic flow to parking availability. And as in-car navigation systems and smartphones have proliferated, INRIX, a company headquartered near Seattle, Wash., has for the past 10 years built a suite of products that leverage sensor data to provide actionable data for drivers and cities alike.

For example, the INRIX Traffic application, which is accessible via a smartphone app and through in-car navigation systems of participating vehicles (including those from Audi, Lexus, Volkswagen, BMW, Tesla and Toyota) helps drivers find the fastest routes from point A to B in cities throughout more than 30 countries.

BMW's parking app
Last week, INRIX announced its newest product, INRIX On-Street Parking, an application that directs drivers to streets with the most abundant available parking spots, pricing information for those meters, and location and pricing information for nearby off-street pay-to-park options. BMW will be the first automaker to introduce the product, as part of a new navigation system it is debuting in its 2016 models.

But over time, says INRIX director Jim Bak, the firm is becoming less dependent on purpose-built traffic sensors. More and more, the company is able to leverage the location data transmitted by the smartphones and in-vehicle navigation systems running its application. As this "crowdsourced" data set grows, he explains, it is opening their services up to cities that lack traffic sensor networks.

"The challenge for cities is that to scale sensor networks, they have to invest and put them everywhere," Bak says, noting that San Francisco decided to stop expanding its SFPark program, which began piloting in 2006, as the batteries that power the sensors started to reach the end of their lifecycles. (The city's SFPark smartphone app still shows where parking meters and garages are located, but no longer provides availability data.)

INRIX is able to power its on-street parking application by collecting data from cities regarding the use of Internet-connected parking meters—to estimate occupancy, it looks at when transactions begin and when the meter's credit is due to run out—combined with anonymized location data from INRIX app-running phones, as well as from the cars with INRIX's Traffic app (transmitted through the embedded cellular modem inside those vehicles).

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