This article was originally published by Sarah Wray on Cities Today, the leading news platform on urban mobility and innovation, reaching an international audience of city leaders. For the latest updates follow Cities Today on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube, or sign up for Cities Today News.
Alphabet-owned urban tech company Sidewalk Labs has launched a new sensor to help cities improve parking and curb management.
Pebble provides real-time data about parking space availability, with a dashboard to give municipalities, operators and real estate developers an understanding of historical parking patterns.
Nick Jonas, Senior Creative Technologist at Pebble, said in a blog post: “These insights can help communicate space availability to customers, reduce circling, and create shared parking zones that minimise the number of spaces built in the first place.”
Parking sensors are not new, but Sidewalk Labs says its solution is easier to install and cheaper than existing products on the market.
The wireless Pebble system consists of individual 2.8-inch Pebble sensors that can be placed on a surface using adhesive. The solar-powered Pebble gateway uses the cellular network, so it can be attached to a pole without running new wires or trenching through pavement.
Once in place, the sensors relay the presence, or absence, of a vehicle in real time.
Several Pebble pilots are ongoing but further details are not being disclosed for now.
The parking problem
Some estimates suggest that circling for parking can account for up to 30 percent of traffic congestion in cities and a more recent study found between 9 and 56 percent of traffic could be cruising for parking. As well as congestion this contributes to increased emissions.
Pebble’s data can be integrated into navigation apps through an API, helping drivers navigate directly to an open space.
Real-time parking information can also alert drivers when spaces are limited before they even leave home, encouraging them to use alternative travel modes.
Curb management has become a priority during the pandemic and Sidewalk Labs says Pebble enables cities to implement flexible programs such as dynamic pricing or real-time reservations for commercial smart loading zones.
Cities give a significant amount of space over to parking, and it’s expensive. Real estate developers can use the Pebble data to create shared parking zones and build less parking. For instance, a restaurant that does most of its business at night might share a parking garage with an office that’s open during the day, rather than each building their own. Data could help make the case for this.
“We think a low-cost, easy-install, privacy-preserving way to measure parking and curb space can help get any number of new ideas for more sustainable and innovative cities off the ground,” said Jonas.
Sidewalk Labs is keen to stress privacy measures. Pebble only collects information on whether or not a vehicle is there, said Jonas.
“The system uses no cameras or other ways to identify a person or vehicle. Consistent with our approach to data minimization, there simply wasn’t a need for such data to achieve the goal of vehicle detection,” he commented.
Jonas added that Sidewalk Labs is also looking at ways to extend this “privacy-sensitive approach” to parking payment and permits.
Concerns over privacy and personal data dogged Sidewalk Labs’ smart city project in Toronto. The plans to create a smart neighborhood in a disused area of Toronto’s Quayside district were dropped in May last year, with Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff citing “unprecedented economic uncertainty”.
Since the demise of the large-scale Toronto project, Sidewalk Labs has announced several vertical-focused products aimed at improving cities. These include Mesa, which uses real-time data and automation for energy management in commercial spaces, and Delve which deploys machine learning to optimise urban project planning.
Last month, Sidewalk Labs spinout Replica announced it had secured US$41 million in Series B funding and plans to expand the urban data platform to Europe and Asia.
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