Friday, September 30, 2016

The practical parking garage - Apple Park

I love technical  innovation, and I hate parking garages. What an opportunity!

My first sight of a tech-assisted parking garage was at Schipol airport in Holland, where each parking spot has a green/red led over the car.  This makes it pretty easy to look down a row of parked cars and see if there are any green lights hovering over empty parking spots. Making the row one-way also reduces the potential conflict of race conditions (literally!) for two cars to try to reach the empty spot first. When a car pulls into a parking spot, an ultrasonic sensor detects the car and sets the led to red.

Of course, once you have individual sensors and indicators for each parking spot, you can network them together to get data that lets you optimize the parking experience, minimizing fumes from idling, and minimizing fumes from impatient drivers, especially at an airport.

At Schipol, and I've seen it now at Heathrow and presumably many other European airports, each parking row then has a sign showing how many empty spots there are to the right or to the left, further reducing the time, and neck-strain of trying to see a green led in the middle of a line of red ones.

Jump up another level, and each entrance to the parkade can have a real-time counter of the number of open spots in each section, letting drivers choose.

I recently watched another drone fly-over of the new Apple campus, with its huge round building, and was surprised to see big rectangular above-ground parking garages for 11,000 cars. Surprised because I thought all that parking was going underground, but in any case, here's a great opportunity for Apple Park - a name for the ultimate in parkade parking apps.

Apple Park simply guides a driver to the nearest open parking spot near their desired entrance, as quickly as possible. The driver can have a default door they like to be near, or set a longer distance so they have to walk a bit, or randomize it for those who like to park in a different place every day.  It has to be a server-side implementation because it has to optimize those 11,000 cars, probably over half of which want to arrive within the same 30 minute window. Apple Park is then a large optimization problem, connected to the cars about to descend onto its entrance ramps, with an estimate of when they will arrive, and assigning parking places with that particular balance of user desire and global optimum that best suits an algorithm. As the driver approaches the parkade, the app tells them which parking spot is assigned to them today, and the best entrance and path to get there given the other traffic at the moment. Like with air traffic control, it is possible that some cars would be told to slow down to avoid a potential bottleneck at a certain location, so the car can move to the slow lane while it is still miles away, or use this time to grab a coffee or pick up that dry-cleaning enroute.

Of course, Apple Park should be embedded into the electric self-driving cars that are probably a growing proportion of Apple employees' commuter devices, and do this without starting up an app at all. Let's see how Apple does with this little project idea...residuals can go to thanks Tim.