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Sidewalk Labs launches low-cost, “privacy-preserving” parking sensor

The sensor, which measures around 7cm in diameter, can be placed on a surface using adhesive and transmits data via a solar-powered gateway which uses the cellular network.

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Pebble from Sidewalk Labs provides real-time data about parking space availability
Pebble from Sidewalk Labs provides real-time data about parking space availability

Sidewalk Labs has launched what it claims is a low-cost, easy-install, privacy-preserving vehicle sensor to help manage parking.

 

Pebble provides real-time data about parking space availability, with a dashboard to help analyse historical parking patterns. The Google-sister company reports that Pebble is already helping pilot customers manage tens of thousands of parking spaces and consider their future parking needs.

 

Sticks to the road

The sensor measures around 7cm in diameter and can be placed on a surface using adhesive. Sidewalk explains that the sensors have two sensing capabilities to improve accuracy and reliability. It transmits data via a solar-powered gateway which uses the cellular network and can be strapped to a pole. This eliminates the need for running any new wires or trenching through pavement, which most existing street sensing systems require.

 

Insights can help communicate space availability to customers, reduce circling, and create shared parking zones that minimise the number of spaces built in the first place.

 

In addition to easy installation, Pebble is designed for low ongoing maintenance and Sidewalk claims sensors can operate for years on standard settings 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 position, Pebble sensors simply relay the presence (or absence) of a vehicle in real time. The system uses no cameras or other ways to identify a person or vehicle. “Consistent with our approach to data minimisation, there simply wasn’t a need for such data to achieve the goal of vehicle detection,” writes Willa Ng, director of mobility, Sidewalk Labs in a blog. “We’ve also started thinking of ways to extend this privacy-sensitive approach to parking payment and permits.”

“Competition for the kerb is at an all-time high, a trend that accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic”

Operators, city agencies and developers can share real-time parking availability to improve navigation or encourage transit. Pebble’s real-time parking availability insights can be integrated into navigation apps through its API, helping drivers navigate directly to an open space in a private lot or garage or at a city-managed kerb.

 

Real-time parking information can also alert would-be drivers when spaces are limited before they even leave home, leading them to use alternative travel modes, such as park-and-ride transit or ferries.

Pebble has two sensing capabilities to improve accuracy
Pebble has two sensing capabilities to improve accuracy
The Pebble solar-powered gateway, attached to a pole
The Pebble solar-powered gateway, attached to a pole

For developers, Pebble insights can help to create shared parking zones and build less parking. Some cities allow developers to build less parking than regulations require if they can prove that sufficient space already exists to meet demand.

 

“This strategy is often called ‘shared’ parking, for instance, a restaurant that does most of its business at night might share a parking garage with an office that’s open during the day, rather than each building their own,” explains Ng.

“Consistent with our approach to data minimisation, there simply wasn’t a need for such data to achieve the goal of vehicle detection”

For city agencies, Pebble can also help optimise kerbside use to generate revenue or support business. “Competition for the kerb is at an all-time high, a trend that accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Pebble enables city kerb managers to implement flexible programmes such as dynamic pricing or outdoor dining, generating revenue and supporting local businesses,” continued Ng.

 

Additionally, kerb management companies like Coord, a Sidewalk Labs incubated company, are working with cities to allocate and manage smart loading zones for commercial deliveries. Space availability data at these zones could enable real-time reservations or redirect drivers to a nearby zone when another is occupied.

 

“[The] list of potential use cases for a product like Pebble is by no means exhaustive,” said Ng. “We think a low-cost, easy-install, privacy-preserving way to measure parking and kerb space can help get any number of new ideas for more sustainable and innovative cities off the ground.”

 

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