Finding That Parking Space May Soon Get Easier, Thanks To … Xerox

ReadWriteDrive is an ongoing series covering the future of transportation.

Google might eventually disrupt the auto industry with self-driving cars, just as Tesla plots its threat with long-range electric vehicles. But the more immediately transformative influence over the driving experience will likely come from a surprisingly old school technology company: Xerox.

See also: Why Google’s Driverless Car Is Evil

With its $6.4 billion acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services in 2009, Xerox obtained technology systems that for decades have managed the data back-end of “transportation services” for governments around the world. Those services include public transit, tolling, and parking. It’s part of Xerox’s shift from document management to a wide range of services technology.

As we enter an era of highly connected cars, these enterprise-level transportation systems—software and hardware—could fundamentally change the thing most people like least about operating a motor vehicle: parking.

Parking Rage

“Parking is a painful experience from start to finish,” said David Cummins, managing director of Xerox parking solutions. “We’re all confused by parking signage, frustrated by scrounging around for coins, and studies have shown that 30 percent of urban congestion is caused by people cruising around looking for parking spaces.” Those issues, according to Cummins, will become a thing of the past, as cars develop the capability of telling you where there’s available parking, if you’re allowed to park there, and what the rate is.

Right now, that intelligence is mostly served up by Xerox to city websites, as well as third-party apps like ParkMe and Parkopedia.

Sam Friedman, chief executive of ParkMe, started the company about three years ago, after missing a movie because he couldn’t find a parking spot in Santa Monica, where the company is based. As of late 2013, the company—funded by a handful of VC sources, including the private venture arm headed by Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co.— had about 30 employees.

In June 2013, Audi became the first car company to offer ParkMe in its cars, providing drivers with immediate access to info about the closest, cheapest available parking. When I met Friedman at the Los Angeles Auto Show last November, he was meeting with other major car companies, selling them on the idea to put ParkMe into the dashboards of cars.

The company makes money by charging a transaction fee. “We don’t care how we get in front of consumers,” he told me. “There are now three screens. There was the desktop. Now there’s mobile.  And here comes the connected car.”

Friedman described ParkMe’s business strategy as “like any other remnant marketplace model.” He said the “little secret” is that even garages in crowded places like Times Square don’t sell out.

Data Integration

Parking technologies are still in their early adolescence, with many emerging apps, sensor companies, and data streams vying for acceptance. The role played by car manufacturers, which are also diversifying into mobility services, is uncertain. (BMW’s ParkNow app is available in San Francisco, Oakland and Palo Alto.) And mapping giants like Google could step in. With a 30-year legacy in transportation services, Xerox appears to have scale and thus a reasonably good position to serve as integrator of all the data.

Today’s sensor technology for parking is relatively expensive—about $200 installed, plus $5 to $10 a month per sensor. Cummins believes that, in many cases, sensors are unnecessary—especially after studies by Xerox revealed that data from parking meters can provide a sufficient level of real-time accuracy.

Today, feeds about open spots come mostly from parking meters and parking garage gates. Increasingly, data is coming from sensors and cameras—and eventually it could come from satellite imagery, and maybe even drones.

Cummins believes that within 10 years, most cars will have their own sensors and will ping other vehicles and infrastructure as soon as they vacate a parking spot, leaving it open for the next driver.

Dynamic pricing, already in use by ParkMe, will become more important as these systems mature, and we can expect the inclusion of peer-to-peer networks, allowing urban property owners to offer driveways (and other nooks and crannies) to desperate drivers seeking a parking spot. Think Lyft or Airbnb for parking.

Making It Easy

According to Cummins, cars using Siri-like voice recognition will analyze your navigation system settings and strike up a conversation with you. The car will say, “Do you want to park in a garage or on the street?” It will explain, for example, that on-street rate is a buck-fifty an hour, but you’ll save $5.00 at the garage two blocks away. Respond with your preference, and the car will automatically reserve the spot, show you the way, and handle the payment transaction.

This is not a far-fetched futuristic vision. Xerox already owns much of what makes this possible. Xerox’s Vector technology manages the backend of electronic toll collection—including transponders and payment infrastructure—for systems such as EZPass on the northeast U.S. Its Merge platform similarly controls parking meters, revenue collection, and violation information from handheld devices.

Xerox doesn’t write the tickets, but manages nearly all the other tasks. Until current laws change, tickets need to be set by hand on windshields. You didn’t expect technology to take all the pain out of parking, did you?

Lead image by Flickr user kdingo, CC 2.0

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