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

Speed is an important behavioral cue, Bak notes, since people who are looking for parrking tend to drive more slowly down a block, scanning for an open spot, than those just passing through an area. He says INRIX's algorithms crunch the collected data to estimate parking availability.

"We fill in the gaps" in places where sensors are not monitoring traffic or parking-spot occupancy, Bak says. "Our point of view is that you can provide services for drivers, and get the data that powers those services, in a way where you don't have a scalability problem because you can collect data where the cars go. Instead of making the road the sensor, why not make the car the sensor?"

INRIX is rolling its on-street parking availability app to carmakers and other companies that want to use the data for their own navigation-system applications. The first cities in which INRIX has sufficient data to offer the service are Amsterdam, Cologne, Copenhagen, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, though it plans to begin offering the service to other congested cities as well, such as Paris, London and Chicago. According to Bak, his company has tested results from its parking-spot availability algorithm in San Francisco, and has found the algorithm's results to be 80 percent accurate compared with those derived using data from the still-active occupancy sensors throughout the city.

A study conducted by the planning department at UCLA estimated that at some parts of the day, up to a third of drivers in urban corridors are not actually going anywhere—they're circling blocks, looking for parking. Helping drivers to quickly find parking spots not only reduces congestion and carbon emissions, but also benefits local businesses by making it easier for their customers to park. Cities can also benefit from the traffic and parking information that INRIX provides, since they can use it to understand how well or poorly parking meters are being utilized. Cities are increasingly using meters that can change fees dynamically throughout the day, with prices increasing during times of highest demand.

INRIX can provide cities with traffic and parking data that is updated every two minutes, Bak says, at a quarter of the cost of installing and maintaining sensors along roadways.

The big-data company is now developing an application for which it is working with carmakers to collect information from a range of in-car sensors—including those that measure outside temperatures or track the operation of a vehicle's braking system or windshield wipers—to generate reports on weather correlated to the route that a particular driver is taking, based on the destination he or she has entered into the navigation system. INRIX would also share this information with the U.S. Departments of Transportation in order to help them dispatch resources (such as plows or road salt trucks) where they appear to be needed most, based on the sensor data and the speed of cars on the roads.

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