App aims to make search for parking easier

December 4, 2012 7:19:49 PM PST
During lunchtime in downtown San Mateo, drivers inch along, bumper to bumper, searching for parking.

"UCLA did a study and estimated that people spend about 15 to 20 minutes on average looking for a place to park," says Kelly Schwager.

She's the chief marketing officer of Streetline, a company which spent years developing a little sensor that detects whether a parking space is empty.

San Francisco started installing them two years ago. Now, San Mateo and San Carlos have partnered with networking giant Cisco to roll them out, along with a free mobile app called Parker.

"It's not that people can't find parking. It's simply that they don't know where it is," says Kurt Buecheler, Streetline's general manager.

Parker acts like radar, guiding drivers to the block with the most open spots. Its makers say it could actually reduce traffic.

"When you can take people's parking time from 20 minutes to 5 minutes, you're going to dramatically reduce the number of cars on the street," said Buecheler.

City officials think it's a good investment for taxpayers.

"It's much cheaper to efficiently manage your existing parking inventory than building new spaces and new facilities," says Matt Bronson, San Mateo Streets and Facilities manager.

Installing one of the Streetline sensors literally is as simple as drilling a hole and dropping it in. They're wireless, just like your cell phone. But unlike your cell phone, the battery life on the sensors is measured in years, not hours.

That simplicity is why Cisco says this is just the beginning. The company sees cities becoming more livable by putting little smart sensors on pretty much every piece of infrastructure.

Kiosks, streetlights, sewers -- all of these things could be connected in the future, according to Sateesh Addepalli of Cisco's Advanced Research & Innovation group.

Streetline has big plans of its own. It wants to build Parker's smart radar directly into cars and navigation systems.

"Once you get to your destination, you can't exactly leave your car in the middle of the street -- you have to put it in a parking spot. So we're hoping to help with that," said Schwager.


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