1. Internet of things and Smart Parking Application

On the year 2009, the ReadWriteWeb started a new column about the internet of things, largely also because at that moment IBM started to launch its smart planet marketing campaign and sell its solutions on smart city. Those two things impacted me enormously because they not printed out a vision of future world but also a map between my ultimate purpose and how I should do to make it. China has its own big plan hopefully to build a new industrial ecosystem on the internet of things, including the sensor networks, RFID, middleware, standards, and applications. Until I came into Europe I started to find the methodologies of internet of things is so different from that of China, grown up from a bottom up way and grassroots. The open atmospheres promoted different people whether the designer, engineer, tinker come together, explore the idea and prototype the conceptual product, where in China the workshops or meet ups were usually replaced by the industrial meeting or boring showcase, which is not for those who are civil engineers or grassroots people.

In almost three years, I witnessed the growth of internet of things, came along with many other buzzwords like open data, vertical farming, sharing, open source hardware, smart energy, crowdsourcing, 3d printing, hackerspace, also the rise of smart city cluster like Amsterdam smart city initiative, the Liverpool smart city initiative. Many startups on internet of things came up, and today unfortunately some of them were gone already or changed the name. Sometimes I have to acknowledge to myself, it is still the mobile internet era, and thus the best time for the internet of things still has not arrived yet. However, the conclusions are not all true. In some areas, we have already seen the rapid growth of applications of IOT; the biggest one is the smart grid in the US while another striking example is incredibly successful area, smart parking application.

2. Smart parking application and leading company

In fact, I learned about the smart parking very early on because of the wireless sensor network is heavily used in this type of application. Among so many IOT applications it is the first few that scale successfully in the market, which it is a surprise to me.

Going to alibaba.com or the website of smart parking expo 2012 China, you will find various individual cars parking equipment or car parking system on sale or exhibition. Most of these companies are in the background of manufacturers, the solutions provided are based on ideas of how to provide a car parking and how to help the manager on the issue of the parking payment and maintenance, and many high tech solutions include using the RFID or CCTV to track the car identity and therefore automate the payment. However, in the context of smart city, the focus is now shifting to how to enable to the user to find a parking in less time. In other words, the biggest stakeholder is not car parking manager, but the millions of car user who might are often frustrated in find viable car parking space.

This emphasis the core of smart city: the product and service of smart city is user centric.

Compared to the conventional parking solutions such as parking meter or smart payment system, what has been radical changed is to add a the new layer of information flow between the demand and supply. Rather than waiting for car parking in still, smart parking system should proactively expose its own vacancy information to the outside world and enable the user to search the information, ultimately reduce parking time. This new layer of information flow is enabled with technologies such as wireless sensor network, GIS and mobile technology. In some sense, the smart parking is not referred as one individual system but an integration solution based on the WSN, GIS, mobile and the cloud computing.

Now there are two world leading companies now actively engaged in providing the smart parking solution, worldsensing and streetline. Luckily I had approached to both companies in different IOT conference and had conversation and contact with them, that is how I started to know about this area.

2.1 worldsensing

streetline is the first company I know who work on this area through the web news; but I think I approached more on worldsensing. The first time I went back to China was in 2010 December to participate on the first IOT conference in Beijing, and worldsensing was the only foreign company who provided the showcase on car parking solution, the CTO of worldsensing Mischa Dohler gave the presentation (I could not remember the content of presentation) but happily I had a few talks with him after in the showcase, in which he presented me the general idea on their technical solution.

Generally when considering the IOT application, it is essentially an engineering integration of sensor technology, wireless sensor network technology and web technology. The system typically consists of two parts, wireless sensor network and web information system.

The core competence of worldsensing ‘s solution is based on the design of wireless sensor networks, which supports multiple sensor network standard i.e. ZigBee, mesh communications, security and foremost important is the ultra-low power consumption that enables the sensor work in years. Dr Mischa disliked the tinyOS for the OS of wireless sensor network, in which he explained to me tinyOS is not efficient on the energy consumption. Another core competence of worldsensing is its partnership with IBM that the web information system for processing the real time sensor data and transactions is provided by the IBM. And we didn’t go further on discussing the web system; I think that was also not his specialization.

2.2 streetline

It was in this year I again approached to the smart parking solution, but from another company – streetline in the apps for smart cities conference in Amsterdam at the end of March, in which I was one of the speakers on the talks of vertical farming. Asdrúbal Pichardo was the representative of streetline on the business development. In the presentation, he primarily focused on the application side rather than the technology side, such as how to enable mobile apps to help solve the problem of finding the parking and how its business model evolves from selling the mobile apps to seeking money from government. He didn’t give much detail about their technology, but in the cocktail talks, I curiously asked what the core of their technology is, the answer is still as expected, ultra-low-power wireless mesh networks. It is easy to understand that in the public environment you always expect the sensor to prolong its life expectancy in years in order to reduce the maintenance cost.

Maybe for me the most interesting thing is to know how they collaborate with government and also make money from government, because so far most IOT applications can’t earn money for lacking a good business model.

3. The challenge of Smart parking application now and in the future

3.1 Monitoring the car parking in WSN

The most direct approach to monitor the car parking is to use the machine vision technique and it can contribute to rich information; due to the privacy issue sensor based approach is more a preferred solution. Moreover, in the open street car parking, using the camera is costly since car parking spaces in the city are sparsely distributed, therefore using the sensor as the detection of car parking is much more economical.

In the smart parking environment, the fundamental infrastructure is the wireless sensor network. Based on the requirement of WSN application, the metric of WSN varies accordingly. Given the WSN in the smart parking application, the sensor nodes could be ranged from tens to hundreds, and the measure on metrics of ultra-low power consumption, multi-hop propagation is much higher on other WSN application like home automation. Ensuring the long life expectancy with the help of duty cycling, mesh network, data aggregation is one condition while ensuring the security and integrity of sensor data and network is another basic condition to avoid possible hacking.

Moreover, choosing the right standard on the sensor network is significant for the interoperability. Today we have seen many competing standard of WSN such as ZigBee. Luckily we also see a growing trend on the convergence of IP standards. New Bluetooth is now convergent to Bluetooth, ZigBee is also convergent to IP standard thanks to the IETF 6LoWPAN adaption protocol, IETF ROLL routing protocol and IETF core application protocol. All these rising protocols facilitate the addressability and identification of WSN sensor node and communication between the sensor node and web application.

In conclusion, the ultra-low, mesh-hop and IPV6 based wireless sensor network structure is the goal for the smart parking applications on the WSN level.

3.2 Real time web system on the smart car parking

3.2.1 Data interoperability and context awareness

While using the WSN to sense the availability of car parking and relaying sensor data to the web system through WIFI or Cellar network, the data exchange standard is one significant part of data interoperability but now there is no established standard on car parking application, SensorML is a complete solution introduced by OpenGIS for sensor syntax interoperability but possibly way too complex in its syntax. Moreover, not only the syntax interoperability but also the semantic interoperability should is also important to the integration between smart car parking web system and other legacy systems i.e. car parking payment system from other stakeholders. This is in the requirement of semantic web in the hope that data can be semantic and reused in the various context awareness applications.

3.2.2 Management of sensor data

Then the second challenge is on the management of sensor data in terms of real time processing, storage and analytics in the cloud computing, which is critical to large scale of smart car parking system. The sensor data is different from other static data such as identity, address of sensor node. They are dynamic, timely continuous and spacious. Traditional SQL based data processing and storage on real time sensor web would lead long delay response time while the new open source solution based on NO – SQL is potentially more advantageous in executing real time transactions.

3.2.3 Real time mobile apps

Without mobile apps, the smart parking solution is no different to the conventional parking solution because we need to empower the user to search the parking in an easy way. The most livable cities will be cities with the best Apps. A good app for the smart parking should be firstly a meaningful visualization (map or other) based on the sensor. Secondly, a real time mobile app is necessary in usability to present the real time data change on the availability. The solutions of real time server node.js and html5 web socket provides potential solution for the real time web between the mobile web user and web server.

3.2.4 Smart Car parking as an open platform and Webinos

A popular saying about the smart city is the city as open platform. The open platform here is referred as the opening tools (mobile apps development framework or open source hardware tool), opening web service interface, and open data. That is to say, the grassroots developers are empowered to use the tools and data to make useful smart city apps and build the communities. By that, what it means is in the smart parking application, the web part of car parking system simply opens the web interface and standard format, promoting the end developer to work on their own smart parking apps on the mobile phone.

Webinos is currently the project I am working on. The purpose of Webinos is to provide a secure web platform, allowing the application, service and data can be consistently reused and shared across 5 different platforms (PC, smart phone, smart TV, car, open source hardware). Simply speaking is that with the aid the Webinos framework, a developer can make a web app using the JavaScript language and web standards API (i.e. sensor API, NFC API, Geolocation API…). Then this app could be easily deployed in these 5 platforms, and the data of the app could be synchronized across the platform in a secure way.

In some ways, the Webinos is potentially a choice of the base of web system on the smart parking system. One reason is it empowers the development and deployment of smart city apps in an open approach and the service, data work across not only on PC, smart phone, but also on the next important platform – car platform, i.e. CityCar. Another reason is that Webinos is much focused on the security and privacy at the beginning of architect, various policies and other approaches on the security and privacy are analyzed.

3.2.5 Smart parking management on identity, payment

Using the RFID and NFC technology in the car parking system is nothing new. Before 2010, Beijing Airport has started to apply the RFID to identify the car and track the car in the parking. Now the trajectory on the RFID is lower than ever, and the core problem is on how to integrate the RFID information flow into the business process.

Concerning the use of NFC, many analysts say the next highlight of mobile internet will be on the NFC and the mobile billing. With large scale of NFC enabled smart phones into the market in next 2 years, it will be soon to see the NFC payment will be also applied into smart parking system.

3.2.6 Smart parking service

While WSN and Real time web infrastructure backbones on smart parking, on the upper layer different business services and mobile apps could be built on.

Reservation based service is one of the basic services I can figure out. It is similar to hotel reservation, after all no matter it is hotel room or parking space, in our crowed city; they are limited in numbers and always a the scarce resource as a result.

Smart planning service is necessary to recommend the driver the right spot rather than merely provide real time visualization. However this planning service could be complicated in situations that the system should predict not only the current available position but also the available positions in 5 minutes, 10 minutes or longer.

The notification service could be useful for the car parking user. For instance, notifying the user that the time of his occupation on the parking is about to arrive, the user then can fetch his car in time or pay more for longer time on the occupation.

Dynamic pricing service allows the priceof parking changes according to the situation. Similar to the price dynamics in the smart grid, in the high time, prices go up, in the low time, prices go down. There are many techniques to address this problem, using the AI like reinforcement learning to make the pricing system adapt themselves according to different situations is an interesting topic to study on.

4. Future trends of smart parking system

4.1 Car parking integrated with EV and smart grid

The development of EV in the Europe has been thought a long time, and recently there are many EV prototypes or commercial EV running inside the cities. And thanks to the smart grid initiative, the EV charging post is rapidly on the deployment in China, EU and USA. In fact, United Kingdom already took a big step with what claimed as the world first national charging network; bring solar, wind power to the charging post. And US is expected to grow the charging post from current 2000 to 1 million.

In many EU cities in Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, London car parking is increasingly integrated with the EV charging zone. (My 2 blogs about EV1,EV2, the dawn of electric highway ) .

The figure( MIT ‘s project on the CityCar) on top gives a vision of future EV car parking system, in which the traditional Fleet management system is additionally integrated with solar panel infrastructure as well as the energy management system in the cloud. The combination of micro smart grid and smart car parking system prints out what the smart parking system likes in the future. (In fact one current smart city demo of Webinos is on building a web based secure infrastructure to monitor the energy consumption of user and user contributes his data to third party and get revenue. )

While thinking in a border scope, smart parking system consists of free energy management system, WSN infrastructure, and real time web system. For sure, this intelligent infrastructure is no longer restricted to the smart car parking. It can extend itself to other purposes by plugging sensors or actuators blocks. Why not use this infrastructure as a backbone for the air quality sensor network, all you need to do is to add an air quality sensor. In fact, this air quality sensor is one of project we had been working in Amsterdam smart city meetup and Brussels hackerspace. (Blog1, Blog2), in which we have envision many possibility of building such WSN infrastructure, my idea is to put them on the each bus, and we can get a real time air quality data on each street in Amsterdam.

ubiquitous connectivity will eventually provide for seamless energy balancing, space negotiation, real-time information sharing, and other services applicable to assisting users in more efficient, effective, and enjoyable commuting.

4.2 Crowd sourcing and sharing on the car parking

Another growing phenomenon of smart city is we as the consumer are shifting from ownership to availability. We start to see a rapid growth of car P2P projects, i.e. ZipCar, Car2Go, in which the purpose of mobility is not on owning a car, but simply moving from A to B. This sharing principle can be also seen in areas of sharing your empty room or couch with others, i.e. couchsurfing.

So why not let some people start to share their own private parking space, when they are away from home. The owner can temporarily lend their parking space to others and make money on it. All they need to do is perhaps signing contracts with smart car parking companies, who only outsource the WSN infrastructure and web system. The private parking owner and the smart car parking company share the revenue of parking. It gives the benefits to the both sides while increasing the more available parking spaces, although it increases the complexity of web business process.

We can say it is based on both sharing and crowd sourcing

5. Final world

In fact I never thought on it as that many but all of sudden many thoughts jumped out. So I think it is not a pure proposal, just something thoughts about the smart city from my hearing and seeing. About the smart city, I think now I have a much clear answer compared to 2 years ago. The basic principle is learned as

1. The City is an Open Platform

2. Products and Services are User Centric

3. The most liveble cities will be cities with the best Apps

4. Paradigm shift: Ownership vs Availability

Anyway, writing this article also gives me an opportunity to look at the smart parking application in new sights, not only in smart parking application, some of ideas are derived from or can be applied into my urban farming project hopefully.

I don’t know whether these things will become a true reality or not, but such vision becomes my motivation. Motivation gets you started, habit gets you going.