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Space Transportation Science Technology

French Use Space Tech To Find Parking Spots 112

itwbennett writes "Using technology developed by French space agency CNES (Centre Nationale d'Etudes Spatiales) to explore the planet Venus, drivers in the city of Toulouse are discovering something much more down-to-earth: vacant parking spots. The system is based on 3,000 sensors buried just under the pavement that detect changes in the electromagnetic environment around them and communicate the results via coaxial cable to a server, which makes the information available in real time to drivers' smartphones."
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French Use Space Tech To Find Parking Spots

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  • by Scryer ( 60692 ) on Monday January 03, 2011 @09:12PM (#34749684)

    I wonder whether Toulouse has laws against using your smartphone while driving -- this could be a nice income source for the municipality as well, staking out the parking spots with hidden cameras!

  • by moehoward ( 668736 ) on Monday January 03, 2011 @09:21PM (#34749750)

    We have the same thing at some commuter train parking lots in the Chicago area. Between two lots I know of, they combine for over 3,000 spots. And we didn't need freakin' NASA to create the technology

    Ours are better here because they are not so outrageously French.

    • Saying that last sentence makes you so outrageously American :)
    • Yeah, BWI has technology like this in the hourly garage, there are sensors above the parking spots that relay to a server that then displays the number of spots on each level and row that are available. Putting the program on a smartphone seems like the ultimate in ludicrous, I like having the numbers displayed on overhead signs as it allows you to not take your eyes off the road and pay attention to your driving. Plus, are smartphones really that common that everyone has them? Last I checked that is sti

  • by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Monday January 03, 2011 @09:25PM (#34749768)

    So the plan is to explore Venus by burying sensors around the planet and detecting when something parks on top of them?

    At least the pioneers will be able to locate a parking spot quickly!

    • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

      So the plan is to explore Venus by burying sensors around the planet and detecting when something parks on top of them?

      At least the pioneers will be able to locate a parking spot quickly!

      I think I know why they grounded the "Venus gig".
      Can you imagine a connection Earth-Venus with coax cable to the server and the number of tower cells they need to build on Venus in the first place? Granted, "roaming fees" would probably be... well, astonomical... but not so many prospective customers, I think the ROI figures would have been abysmally low.

    • Good luck finding a parking space cool enough to not melt your fancy NASA-designed spinner rims.

  • 3000 sensors deployed used to monitor 15000 parking spaces... It would be interesting to find out how such buried sensors could do that.

    • by Leuf ( 918654 ) on Monday January 03, 2011 @09:52PM (#34749924)

      "The 3,000 sensors, buried about nine inches apart, are able to pinpoint open parking spots within 980 feet"

      Something doesn't seem right about that.

      • by M. Baranczak ( 726671 ) on Monday January 03, 2011 @10:29PM (#34750118)

        They're very small parking spaces. Ever seen a French car?

      • by Fry-kun ( 619632 )

        If I understand TFA correctly, these sensors act as a radar, except they analyze EM fields (which are distorted by metal cars) within the working radius

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Could this be used to monitor traffic flow too?

          I have been thinking about how to implement an open source traffic monitoring system. The idea is that people can set one up at home and monitor the traffic outside, generating data that can be used by smart phones and web sites to show areas of congestion. At the moment we only get traffic flow data for major roads in the UK, but I noticed that in Japan they have data for main roads in cities as well.

          Since we can't dig up the road I was thinking of using a web

          • by suso ( 153703 ) *

            Like this []?

            I made that early last year. Doesn't work as well in low light but mostly during the day it works pretty well. The winter has screwed it up because of the lower sun angle.

            • by suso ( 153703 ) *

              I should note that right now the image processing is turned off because it was just burning CPU and wasn't working well in the winter. I wrote the algorithms based on spring and summer images. ;-) During those times, its was probably about 80-90% accurate during the day.

            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

              Nice, that is an impressive system. I think traffic monitoring might actually be a bit easier because you are only looking to track moving objects so a slowly changing background does not interfere with it. It doesn't even have to be that accurate because the data is averaged, so picking up cyclists or people crossing the road won't mess things up.

              What software are you using?

      • by icebike ( 68054 )

        If you follow the link in TFA to the graphic you see that the sensors are placed in the parking lane at the side of the street and have a sensor every 9 inches (overkill).

        So something is way off with the story or the graphic, because 3000 sensors spaced 9 inches apart cover less than half a linear mile.

        • by jeyk ( 570728 )

          There seems to be some confusion because TFA doesn't cite its source [] correctly (emphasis mine).

          A field test conducted outside the building located at 82 Boulevard Lascrosses demonstrates how the system will function. Here, sensors have been placed just below the surface of the road under half a dozen parking spaces. The high-tech probes, which are mounted 25 centimeters (9 inches) apart on a coaxial cable a hand's width under the bitumen


          The information gathered is sent to a server, which can keep track of around 2,500 to 3,000 sensors.


          • there are only a few sensors buried at this time.
          • The server they use can keep track of about 3,000 sensors.
          • In the future they will be able to monitor all 15,000 parking spots.
      • I always love it when approximate numbers are translated to high precision numbers in different units :-)
        300 meters is 984 feet, which they rounded to 980...
      • 3,000 French sensors can't be wrong!
  • Same in SF (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Monday January 03, 2011 @09:35PM (#34749832) Homepage

    We have a similar system in San Francisco: []

    • But that requires one sensor for each parking spot, while this monitors changes in the electromagnetic environment to locate free spots further away as well. One sensor can take care of multiple spots.

    • by Ptur ( 866963 )
      yes, and I have also seen this at work in the parking garage of the main railway station of Innsbruck (Austria), almost two years ago.

      Maybe the French 'researchers' went on holiday and just copied ideas? This certainly is not NEWS to me....
    • They used space technology to fly to San Francisco and then copy the system in Toulouse.
  • old news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by redfood ( 471234 ) on Monday January 03, 2011 @09:39PM (#34749848)

    They have had something like this at BWI for years. Even better - you don't have to look at your phone while driving. There are red and green lights marking open spots and the number of free spaces listed at the head of each row.

    Similarly, the parking structure at the Grove in LA lists the number of free spaces per floor.

    • by jonwil ( 467024 )

      They have a similar system (with the lights) at a major shopping center here in Australia. Arrows on the ceiling indicate "dont go this way, no free parks" or "go this way, x parking spots free" and direct people to the nearest free space. Also has special indicators for wheelchair parking spots.

    • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

      They have had something like this at BWI for years. Even better - you don't have to look at your phone while driving. There are red and green lights marking open spots and the number of free spaces listed at the head of each row.

      Similarly, the parking structure at the Grove in LA lists the number of free spaces per floor.

      Hell, yeah... but was it developed originally for Venus exploration? Ehh?

    • by pmontra ( 738736 )
      The French system finds parking spots on the streets, not in car parks. It's a different and IMHO a much harder problem.
      • by NetNed ( 955141 )
        Sensors are sensors, what is so much harder about were they are buried?
        • by NetNed ( 955141 )
          whoops. should read "where"
        • Sensors are sensors, what is so much harder about were they are buried?

          If you have a block on a street that allows parallel parking but has no lines for specific spaces how do you determine if there is enough space available between cars for another car to park? This method allows for that. If you have a space that can fit three small cars or two large trucks you can't have a sensor for each individual spot since the parking situation is dynamic.

          • by NetNed ( 955141 )
            Wow cause TFA says nothing about that. I still say a sensor that can detect things like this has already been done. Meters would be cheap and more cost effective.
    • The system has been in the garage for years, but the summary board always seems to display a high number for available spaces vs what you'll actually find on that level. I won't try to park on a level if the number's less than 250 as I'll have to hunt forever for a spot.
    • But it does not involve usage of wireless technologies, smartphones, data plans, and other expensive personal gadgets and communication technologies that bring so much cash to our battling economy! And it's not hip!

  • Parking spots in most cities in the world are scarce because they are priced well below what they are worth. By letting demand set the price (i.e. raise it dramatically) you deal with several problems all in one fell swoop:
    - parking unavailability
    - people polluting the air and causing congestion endlessly circling for a cheap/free spot
    - enforcement of time limits currently in place for free spots
    - using space age technology to detect free spaces

    The tech sounds neat but it's just over-complicating an alread

    • disclaimer : I'm a municipal elected official, and we just had the local planning board (which covers two counties) for a parking study.

      The trick is, you want to have open parking spaces, because open spaces mean that people can use the shops, but you don't want to make it so that people park for too long in the prime spots. So, you have to go to tiered pricing with different time limits:

      • parking lot, a few blocks from the city center : unlimited time, cheap rates
      • on street, a couple blocks from the city ce
      • but I'm guessing they'd be less likely to hog those spots if they had to go out every hour to feed the meters, even if the rates per hour were the same.

        Hell, make it every 20 minutes. If you need to park on the street, then you need to go to one store and then leave. If you're going "shopping" then you need to park further away.

    • Well, except that parking spots are not the end-item that the city is trying to sell. What the parking spot provides is convenient access to nearby restaurants, shops, music halls, etc., where people spend real money. The parking spot is worthless without those things, so it should be priced only so high as to allow most people to get to those things without feeling ripped off and avoiding the area in the future. Jack up parking spot rates in an urban shopping district, and suddenly maybe a trip to the '
  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Monday January 03, 2011 @09:49PM (#34749906)

    ... the parking lots have displays showing how many spots are still free. When you drive in and get your ticket, the number is decremented. When you drive out, putting the paid ticket back into the machine, it gets incremented. Very simple and effective. However, you need to be physically close to the parking lot to see the display. But I'm not sure if I want a bunch of folks fiddling with their smart phones, while trying to drive as well.

    • by jrumney ( 197329 )
      That system of counting entries and exits is quite common for closed parking lots, and many towns in the UK have signs on major roads approaching the town centre with a list of parking lots and spaces available, so you don't need to be physically close. Also in Singapore they broadcast this info over TMC, so your satnav can direct you to a parking building with spaces available. The innovation here seems to be applying it to roadside parking, where there is no control of vehicles entering and exiting the pa
    • In a lot of cities in the UK, the road signs directing people to the main car parks have vacancy numbers. It helps a lot.

  • by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Monday January 03, 2011 @09:49PM (#34749908)
    Step on it Pierre, no time Toulouse!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Kill yourself.

  • DDoP (Distributed Denial of Parking) attacks -- the ultimate in dick driving!
  • Is there a parking problem on Venus? I would have thought that there was plenty of room, given how few cars are designed to operate in such a hostile environment.

    • Yeah, I've never heard of a car that can drive on a ball of gas.

      • Uhh, Venus is a rocky planet. One Russian probe actually landed there and took a few pictures. However, one lander doth not a parking problem make, especially since the sulphuric acid in the Venusian atmosphere will chew them up in time...
    • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

      Is there a parking problem on Venus? I would have thought that there was plenty of room, given how few cars are designed to operate in such a hostile environment.

      On the bright side: electric cars from renewable energy would be the choice (even if not because the pressure from environmental groups - btw, these groups would be themselves under a pressure 90 times the one on Earth).
      Not only there's not enough oxygen [] to burn fossil fuels, but the winds on Venus are rated a 300 km/h and the insolation value is almost twice [] of the Earth's. Granted, no hydro, though.


    Much better article. The sensors detect a vehicle parked immediately above it, not 900ft away.

  • ..are now "space technology"?

  • i need a parking SPOT, not the parking LOT - WTF 980 feet... sensors 9 inches apart.. that many sensors and you cant come closer than a quarter mile?

    "The 3,000 sensors, buried about nine inches apart, are able to pinpoint open parking spots within 980 feet and send an alert to a server, which makes the information available in real time to drivers using a special app on their smart phones."

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Try reading the spiegel article.
      The linked article is fucking shit, so lets clear it up:
      Two sensors per spot spaced 9 inches apart.
      Server can currently track 2500 to 3000 sensors.
      The system directs you to the empty spots within 300 m of where you are.
      In the future they hope to monitor 15,000 space.

  • I park at the far end and walk a bit further. I don't waste time chasing spaces, and I get a little exercise. I don't pay for a gym membership either.

    If you want to employ multibillion dollar tech to solve this "huge problem", be my guest. Sheesh!

  • Micro changes in air density, my ass!

  • I don't see what's so great about this. They have to bury a huge number of sensors in pavement, and they're wired devices; they are all on a coax cable. Buried cables in pavement are a huge maintenance headache. Freeze/thaw cycles and traffic pressure damage the cables over time.

    UC Berkeley has developed a wireless sensor [] for such applications. It's an extremely low power device powered by the compression of the pavement as cars go by.

    But the real competition is cameras. In the last ten years, the

  • by michelcolman ( 1208008 ) on Tuesday January 04, 2011 @07:13AM (#34752376)

    Seriously, this would be such an incredibly simple, cheap and useful solution: For every large open parking lot, put a webcam on a roof or nearby antenna. When you arrive at the parking lot, a quick look on your smartphone will immediately show you where the open spots are. No need for sensors (which are expensive, will fail regularly, and may not detect small and/or incorrectly parked vehicles, motorcycles,...), no complicated connections with underground coax cables, no expensive maintenance. Just one webcam, connected to some small server which is connected to the internet.

    Of course indoor parking lots would be more difficult, sensors are probably a better bet there. But then you can use much simpler detectors, for example optical ones mounted on the roof.

    • Actually, with all these comments about parking lots, I hadn't noticed that the article is talking about a system for a whole city. In that case, it's actually a very good idea. Lots of streets with parking spaces in short supply, just look at your smart phone and it will immediately tell you which spot everybody is racing to :-)

      Although maybe a realtime sattellite image would be even simpler, now that would be space tech :-)

    • I think these lots are gigantic. For instance imagine the parking lot at Disney world and the effort they spend managing it.
  • If I understand the technology employed here, it is the same tech my corner stop light uses to detect cars waiting for the light to change, only instead of using the data on car presence to influence a stop light, they are using coaxial cable to send the info to a server which makes it available to a web server... All of this is fairly common technology - you can literally find most if not all of it on any major intersection in America.

    Oh but wait, your smartphone is using it's GPS to determine where your c

  • Unless this is a serious improvement over the sensors used in US roadways its going to have a problem detecting motorcycles. Most have too little metal to set off the sensors, which is why you sometimes see bikers parking their bikes, and running over to hit the walk button.
  • Interesting, but it doesn't sound particularly unique. I know of several companies which feature very similar technology. Actually, this one company in particular pairs it up to parking meters that allow the city to track if parked cars have paid for the spot or if they're in violation. That's not something your average person looks forward to, but they do also allow for the opportunity to inform drivers of open spots, as well as letting you know that your meter is about to expire.

    I'm also not sure why this

    • by thaig ( 415462 )

      A couple of sensors 9 inches apart can cover an area within a radius of 980ft. That's why it is special - because you don't need one sensor for every space.

  • if all parking spots were allocated by a computer system. We can remove all the parking meters also.

    Nav system can find you a parking spot from the system.

    What is required is all spots managed by the system require the allocation from the system before use.

    There can be police to maintain the rule, or remote control blocker to enforce the rule.

    Parking meters can be remove too, the system can also accept payments while allocating the parking spot.

    contact if want more

  • Instead of sending the info to people's smartphones, the city should use it to adjust the rates for parking meters to reflect real-time demand. When the parking spot vacancy rate falls below 15%, increase the meter rates, and if the vacancy rate rises above 15%, decrease the meter rates. You'll never have to worry about finding a parking spot again, and you'll always be able to park close enough to right outside your destination. Parking spots are a scarce resource, and we usually ration scarce resources

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus