Google Maps: Calculating Parking Near You
“Calculating alternate route.” We’ve all heard this before. It’s Google’s way of telling us: “Things are going to be difficult this way. Let me help.” I once heard a TED talk speaker use this as the basis for a bit about remaining calm at work. A staff member suddenly finds it difficult to perform a job he’s been perfectly capable of for years and instead of picking up a filing cabinet and hurling it at him like she wants to do, a soothing British voice plays in the speaker’s head and she calmly ‘calculates an alternate route.’ Imagine yourself in a similarly frustrating situation where you’ve been circling the block for a half hour trying to find a parking space only to have the last one taken by a bubble-gum smacking teen in a pink bug. Argh! Rather than hurling a tire iron at her, what might Google’s new mapping app say to soothe you? “Calculating alternate space.”
Coming soon to a Google Map near you: a parking feature that will tell you whether the parking situation at your particular destination is “easy” or “hard.” How does Google plan to do this? According to its 9.34 beta release, which will be doled out for testing this summer, Google plans to use knowledge about the available parking spaces in a particular area, coupled with stats on population and traffic density as well as local sporting and entertainment events which may have an impact on parking to determine whether your particular parking experience in that area might be simple or worthy of igniting road rage. While the feature will not be able to actively track open spaces and tell you where the next available spot may be, we have to assume that will come with competing parking apps like PocketParker and Parker.
PocketParker uses tracking data from other smartphone users who have also downloaded the app to see whether they are “circling” around a particular parking lot. In addition, the app uses each user’s built-in smartphone accelerator to determine whether a user has recently parked her car and set off on foot or hopped in her car and driven away (signaling a potential empty spot). Of course, there are potential false reads from any of these sources if a user, for example, leaves her phone in the car, gets in a friend’s car, etc. But, by calculating the number of spaces in a given lot as well as the number of people potentially “circling” or having recently just parked or driven away, the app boasts a prediction rating of available parking spots in any given lot within 6% of the actual number. That’s close enough for me. Another parking app, Parker, uses wifi-connected sensors installed in parking garages in high-traffic cities like Los Angeles and Boston to determine space availability in that particular garage.
With technology like this, we have to believe it will only be a matter of time before Google incorporates these kinds of data and calculation processes and configures a way to actually determine, at least within a reasonable percentage, the likely availability of a particular parking spot anywhere. With the mere installation of a computer chip in each spot, Google could likely even reserve the spot while you are en route. We find it fascinating to imagine what this type of technologically-advanced future will look like and the types of experts we may be someday looking for to testify in the accompanying patent cases: a traffic density and parking algorithm specialist, perhaps?
It’s likely apps such as these may even themselves become obsolete as Google will be driving us to our destination anyway in self-driven smartcars. We won’t have to worry about considering an alternative route or circling the lot to find a parking space. Google will do all of this “calculating” for us and tell us—within a 6% margin—precisely how many minutes it will take us to get from our front door to our office chair. Assuming we will still sit in “chairs.”
Do you see Google Maps evolving to a spot-on parking space availability predictor? If so, do you think you’ll like Google doing all of the driving and calculating for you?