Cost-effective vehicle sensor aims to manage smart city parking

Cost-effective vehicle sensor aims to manage smart city parking

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Alphabet's smart city subsidiary Sidewalk Labs has launched a low-cost vehicle sensor that uses real-time data to manage city parking and curbs.
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

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Designed to address the complex problem of city parking, the sensor – called Pebble – is offered as a low-cost, easy-to-install, privacy-preserving vehicle sensor designed to help manage parking in innovative and sustainable ways. It provides real-time data about parking space availability, with a dashboard to help analyze historical parking patterns.

These insights, says the company, can help communicate space availability to customers, reduce circling, and create shared parking zones that minimize the number of spaces built in the first place. Pebble’s low-infrastructure design also makes it easier to install and lower cost than existing street sensors on the market.

“Parking operators, real estate developers, and city agencies don’t have access to the information they need to manage their parking supply most effectively,” says Nick Jonas, Sr. Creative Technologist at Sidewalk Labs. “Existing parking availability technology tends to be expensive, difficult to install, or even invasive. That’s why Sidewalk Labs is excited to introduce Pebble.”

The wireless Pebble system consists of two easy-to-install parts:

  • Individual Pebble sensors can be quickly placed on a surface using adhesive. Though just 2.8 inches in diameter, these sensors have two sensing capabilities, improving accuracy and reliability over existing street sensors on the market.
  • The solar-powered Pebble gateway uses the cellular network, so it can be strapped to a pole without running new wires or trenching through pavement, which most existing street sensing systems require.

In addition to being easy to install, Pebble is designed for low ongoing maintenance. Pebble sensors can operate for years on standard settings, says the company, and have undergone rigorous real-world testing to ensure accuracy and reliability. The solar-powered gateway can operate indefinitely, even in cloudy conditions.

Once in place, Pebble sensors relay the presence (or absence) of a vehicle in real time – that’s all Pebble collects, whether or not a vehicle is there. 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,” says Jonas. “We’ve also started thinking of ways to extend this privacy-sensitive approach to parking payment and permits.”

Pebble, says the company, can improve quality of life in cities in the following ways:

  • For operators, city agencies, and developers – Share real-time parking availability to improve navigation or encourage transit
  • For developers – Use insights to create shared parking zones and build less parking
  • For city agencies – Optimize curbside use to generate revenue or support business

“This list of potential use cases for a product like Pebble is by no means exhaustive,” says Jonas. “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.”

Sidewalk Labs

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