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The role of Smart Parking within the EU's Smart Cities initiatives

Smart devices surround us. The emergence of the Internet of things (IoT) has allowed a convergence of data from previously disparate sources, sensors, and technologies that are transforming the way we interact with - and understand - our environments.

This concept lies at the heart of a new EU initiative to improve transport and movement around our urbanizations – an initiative intended to build and shape the Smart/Intelligent Cities of the future.

Smart Cities focus on the one prominent question planners, designers, and architects have been asking for years: namely, how do cities function and how can we improve the way they function in the future.

As our knowledge of urban environments improves and we gather more data on how people use city transport networks and resources. Hence, our ability to mitigate congestion and pollution becomes greater.

A core component of the Smart Cities initiative is the more significant provision of Smart Parking to ease urban congestion, reduce pollution, and free-up our roads. While the number of cars on our roads continues to increase, there is little we can do to provide more parking – hence the need for a smarter solution to maximize the use of existing space.

The fundamentals of a Smart Parking System

A smart car parking system can encompass any or all of the following:

  • Sensors to identify vacant parking spaces
  • Payment functions - either within an app or at cashless terminals
  • Pre-booking options for spaces within a car park
  • Intelligent car identification via cameras and registration plates
  • Automatic payment processing once a driver leaves a parking facility
  • Automated barrier entry systems, triggered by car identification
  • GPS to guide drivers to vacant spaces
  • Options to automatically extend the time required in a space

The advantages of smart parking systems are numerous and benefit both consumers and service providers while also improving the overall movement and flow within a city.

From a consumer perspective, drivers are automatically guided to a vacant space, saving them valuable time and fuel trying to find somewhere to park. As drivers can automatically extend the time required for parking, fines become a thing of the past.

Likewise, paying for parking becomes significantly more straightforward, quicker, and automated through the use of an app, saving the need to carry cash or coins. Moreover, drivers only pay for the time spent parked rather than, as is currently common, by the hour.

From a provider perspective, car park owners can use the data gathered to maximize the use of space within their facility and plan any subsequent expansion, based on proven driver habits. The technology also allows car park owners to predict times when their facilities will be busiest. Likewise, automated Smart Parking leads to a largely cashless operation with payments being taken electronically - and all this in a fully automated environment, without staff.

Big data analysis to improve urban traffic flow

Used in a macro environment with big data analysis, the information gathered from car parking sensors and usage can also help predict traffic flow around a city at given times during the day, which can then be used to improve the overall transport network.

Smart parking isn't the stuff of fiction. Similar technologies have been rolled out across numerous European cities, including Hamburg, where it is already possible for drivers to input their destination into their phone, and the app will pre-book – and guide them to - a vacant parking space.

The future

As the convergence between the real and digital worlds continues apace, our understanding of how city infrastructures and individuals interact will continue to improve. The data gathered through the Internet of Things has the potential to completely revolutionize, not just parking but all aspect of urban living as we know it.

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