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Sensor applications in smart parking

We all have the experience of driving around looking for a parking place, whether we are attending a conference or shopping downtown. It is not just time-consuming and frustrating, but if you add up all the cars, there is also a lot of fuel and time wasted. Newer parking lots provide a display to show you how many spaces (if any) are available on each floor. This is an improvement, to be sure, but more can be done. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a way of knowing exactly where the open parking space is every time you need one?

Smart parking solutions

New technology has come to the rescue. Three solutions are provided by a combination of parking software/apps, sensors, and secure wireless connections. The current focus of many companies is to solve three problems.

  1. Help drivers find parking spaces quickly.
  2. Make parking payment easier, including extension of parking time.
  3. Collect useful analytics data from the parking behavior for shopping malls.

IoT software companies are teaming up with parking meter companies to not only track the parking spaces but also provide users with apps to precisely locate open parking spaces and pay the parking fees online. Its smart software also keeps track of the length of the parking time and the hours when the cars are parked. By doing so, the software will be able to provide useful analytics on the foot traffic near the mall and provide the shop owners with valuable information as to when the busiest time would be based on how full the parking lots are. The apps offer great convenience to drivers as it would locate the parking space, allow payment online and add additional time remotely to avoid getting parking tickets.

What types of sensors are used? The three types used today include side-mounted, in-ground, and radar.  For parking building retrofitting, side-mount units will be the easiest. But this type of sensor would be much more difficult for street parking. On the other hand, in-ground sensors can be installed for both parking structures and street parking, but it requires that the ground is dug up for installation. To detect the presence of a vehicle, the sensors may use magnetometer, ultrasonic, optical (infrared) or radar. The radar approach is unique. Siemens has installed radar above street parking spaces which scans the parking space below to detect if the space is occupied by a vehicle.

Another solution is to use low-power WAN (LPWA) such as LoRaWAN or NB-IoT. It transmits data periodically to the LoRaWAN or a cell tower indicating if a parking space is occupied. Additionally, the low-power technology enables a battery life of multiple years. This is important because changing batteries in the sensors is a very labor intensive endeavor. NWave, a UK-based company has developed its own wireless technology and is said to consume even lower power and boasts a longer wireless communication distance than LoRaWAN.

What does the future look like?

Technology and parking meter companies will continue to team up to provide much needed smart parking solutions to help drivers save time and energy. The joint efforts can also provide valuable analytics data to malls, shop owners and city governments to improve city and business planning.

It may be a few years away, but the smart city will become a reality, and smart parking is one small step towards the future of smart city planning.

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