Smartphone Movements Could Reveal Empty Parking Spots

Caleb Garling at MIT Technology Review: “Researchers have come up with a novel way to find parking spots with your smartphone. It promises to be much easier than driving around looking for an empty space, and doesn’t require the installation of pricey sensors or other methods for tracking available spots.
At the State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers built an app called PocketParker that does what they’re calling “pocketsourcing”—essentially, turning smartphones into passive sensors that track the location and movements of other users who’ve installed the app. A remote computer crunches the aggregate user actions and determines the likelihood that a lot has an open space. A paper about PocketParker will be presented at the ubiquitous computing conference UbiComp in Seattle next week.
While some parking lots employ sensors to gather information about capacity, PocketParker works without any such infrastructure. It pulls parking lot data from OpenStreetMap and calculates the number of spaces in a given lot based on its dimensions. During a study, researchers found that they could predict the number of spaces to within 6 percent of the actual number.
The app uses the smartphone’s accelerometer to determine where a user is and gauges whether he’s looking for a parking spot based on his movements. If a user drives slowly through a parking lot without stopping, that signals that the lot is full. If a user displays movements typical of walking and then suddenly speeds up and leaves the lot, that signifies that he likely just got into his car and drove away. The app calculates this in the background. “There should be no interaction required,” says SUNY Buffalo computer science professor and paper coauthor Geoffrey Challen….”