Siemens develops radar system to ease city parking woes

Fri, 2015-03-06 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

It’s a frustration that anybody who has driven in even a moderately sized city knows: the pain of trying to find a place to park. But it’s not just a frustration for the person trying to park; it’s also a significant cause of traffic congestion.

Council Associate Partner Siemens is working on a comprehensive solution that will use sensors to help drivers park their cars quickly, while helping cities make sure people aren’t creating obstacles and hazards by parking where they shouldn’t. Tests are already underway on a small scale; a bigger pilot projects will begin later this year.

The hunt for parking is a serious drain
When we think of the frustration of parking, we tend to think only of the driver who’s trying to park. But it turns out it leads to a significant frustration for everyone else on the road too.

Drivers who can’t find a parking spot on their desired block tend to circle that block – and perhaps a neighboring one – over and over and over until a parking space opens up. In some cities, nearly a third of the people on the road are actually just trying to get off of it.

A European study by APCOA Parking found that it takes drivers in Italy’s biggest cities 15 minutes and three miles of wasteful loops to find a space. Germany isn’t far behind. On a typical day, each driver wastes €1.35 in fuel and generates an extra 1.3 kilograms of CO2 emissions.

How it works
The Siemens solution combines a smartphone app with radar sensors that are mounted in street lamps. Siemens says the sensors are about the size of a fist and can not only detect parked cars, but also bicycles and entry ways.

As drivers reach their destinations, the app searches the available parking spaces and displays spots that are big enough for their vehicles. The sensor data is also sent back to a command center that gives the city valuable information about parking utilization, which can help shape policy decisions. Command center staff can also receive immediate notifications if cars are illegally parked – for example, blocking a bicycle lane – and have the option to dispatch a parking enforcement officer.

The system also gets smarter over time. Analytics can be used to help determine if a given space is typically full, empty or turns over quickly to produce parking space forecasts that can further help drivers.

In the future, it could also save drivers time in paying for their parking. It could be combined with RFID tags that could allow the system to automatically deduct fees from a driver’s account, eliminating the need to feed a meter.

Studies underway
Siemens designed the system so that cities can deploy it with minimal effort. This isn’t the first parking sensor system, but it is one of the easiest to install.

Other systems have required sensors to be buried in the pavement. The Siemens system is small and can be attached easily to street lights, where power is already available. (The Council's free Smart Street Lighting 101 guide helps cities see the potential of smart street lights and provides guidance for starting and deploying such projects.)

The Siemens parking project is set to graduate from a lab in Munich to the streets of Berlin within the next month or so. A pilot project in Dubai would likely begin by the end of the year.

More resources …
Report: Yes, smart parking apps can reduce congestion, pollution and other city woes
Smart parking on the rise: 1 million spaces by 2020
Need a parking space fast? There's a winning app for that