A study by Transportation Alternatives found that up to 45 percent of traffic in an area of Brooklyn was caused by cars circling the streets looking for parking. And in 2006, UCLA professor of urban planning Donald Shoup calculated that, within a year, vehicles searching for parking in a small business district in LA consumed 47,000 gallons of gas and produced 730 tons of carbon dioxide.
Faced by such shocking numbers, the default reaction of some people has been to look to technology for an answer. Let's invent a system, they resolved, that enables drivers to find open parking spaces without delay. A team at Rutgers University, for example, uses ultrasonic sensors, GPS receivers and cellular networks to find empty parking spaces; they relay this information to drivers using internet maps and navigation systems.
To optimize the search process, the Rutgers team placed ultrasonic sensors on the passenger-side door of three cars and used them to collect data on empty parking spaces over a period of two months during daily commutes through Highland Park, New Jersey. From this, the engineers developed an algorithm that used these ultrasound readings to reveal the number of available parking spaces with 95 percent accuracy. By combining this information with GPS data, they were able to produce maps of occupied and unoccupied spaces that were 90 percent accurate.
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