BMW And Parkmobile: Big Data And IoT To Change The Way We Park Our Cars
23 July 2021
Learning to live with, let alone prosper from, the widespread changes being brought about by technology, sometimes requires changes in behaviour on our part.
Smart homes, for example, don’t simply mean we don’t have to remember to switch the lights on and off or set our IoTthermostats. We have to learn how to set up automation programs and sometimes make changes to our habits to accommodate sensors and new control interfaces. The benefits can be huge, in terms of energy savings or enhanced security, but it isn’t always as simple as plugging it all in, and carrying on with your life in a slightly more convenient way.
Parkmobile’s CEO John Ziglar told me that the deal between his company and BMW – which will see the application integrated into the head unit of new vehicles – aims to change how we think about parking. The average driver spends 20 to 30 minutes looking for a parking space when visiting a city they are unfamiliar with. Not only is this an inefficient use of time, it has financial and environmental consequences we could all do without.
“My goal is that in three years’ time, not a single driver gets into their car without knowing where their car will come to rest at the end of their journey – I don’t believe that’s an unachievable thing,” Ziglar tells me.
Improving consumer visibility
The key to achieving this will be the “visibility” that an online, real-time overview of parking at any destination, will come from a network such as Parkmobile – which operates in 250 cities and 22 airports across the US, as well as major sports and concert venues.
Just as services such as Uber provide new levels of visibility to taxi customers, who can see who their driver will be before they arrive and track their location as they approach, drivers need to know what is available and at what cost before they start their journey in order to minimise disruption and inefficiency when they arrive.
“As people start to realise there are solutions to solve these problems, I believe it will become engrained in their habits, but we need to educate people on the availability of those solutions,” Ziglar reasons, “and those kinds of changes can happen very quickly.”
In order to provide accurate models of available parking in a given area, Parkmobile relies on a huge amount of data, some gathered from parking service providers themselves, and others from third parties. While their own coverage – Parkmobile is the exclusive provider of online payment services at on-street, municipal spaces in 39 US cities – provides a lot of the necessary data, there are gaps which need to be filled.
Ziglar explains “For example in Washington DC over half of on-street parking sessions run through our systems so we already know half of the parking availability.”
“We work with a couple of different data companies which go out to these municipalities to gather the rest of the data – using factors like the amount of coins fed into coin operated machines - we feed them our data, they combine it and provide us with a feed which we can overlay on our map.”
Ziglar also sees the technology in Parkmobile’s platform as an important step towards solving one of the issues which will be faced by manufacturers and fleet operators of autonomous and self-driving vehicles.
He tells me “When we came into this, we saw the autonomous car as a threat to the long-term business. But we are very quickly reassessing that and seeing it as a huge opportunity.
“The ability for a car to navigate to a parking space on its own, and then pay for parking on its own, is going to become critical."
“In certain use cases we have right now, we are effectively doing that anyway – the driver is in the car at the moment but the car is locating a free space and making the payment. The driver has to confirm to start the session, but it could just as easily be set up to do it itself.”
The Parkmobile and BMW use case is interesting because it highlights how technology can drive changes in our behavior necessary to reap the benefits of an automated, big data-driven, always-online society.
It also serves as a massive-scale testbed for the automated payment technology which will be needed for vehicles to transact for services on the road, without interrupting our enjoyment of the scenery along the way.
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