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Sidewalk Labs Unveils Parking Sensor Installed With Adhesive

Pebble is a small, solar-powered, wireless, hockey puck-shaped sensor that detects whether a vehicle is in a parking space — information that could be used to send drivers to an open space, or support dynamic pricing.

A person placing a Pebble parking sensor on the ground
Sidewalk Labs
Sidewalk Labs, a Google-linked smart city tech company, has unveiled a new sensor meant to make it easier to tell where parking is available at any given moment.

Pebble is a wireless, adhesive-backed, solar-powered disc that can be stuck to the ground in a parking spot. When a vehicle enters the space, a low-power magnetometer inside the Pebble detects its presence, and then an optical sensor confirms. The data is then transmitted to a nearby solar-powered gateway — Sidewalk Labs suggests strapping it to a light pole — where it can be relayed to any person looking for parking.

That could mean that in a navigation app, such as Google’s Waze, a person could theoretically see which spots are open near their destination in real time. The data could also be used to identify patterns over time, giving cities and parking operators a more detailed picture of supply and demand.

“These insights can help communicate space availability to customers, reduce circling and create shared parking zones that minimize the number of spaces built in the first place,” wrote Sidewalk Labs’ Nick Jonas and Willa Ng in a blog post.

The core concept is not new; cities have been using sensors to determine which parking spots are open for years. But such technology often comes with problems, relying on underground trenching or cameras that can see vehicles’ license plates. Pebble’s only data collection is whether or not a vehicle is in a spot, and the company thinks the ease of installation and lack of required maintenance will make it much cheaper than competitors’ products — though a spokesperson for the company told Government Technology the price isn’t finalized yet.

The sensor should also be able to detect two-wheeled vehicles such as motorcycles, and can bear the weight of a truck without breaking, the spokesperson said.

The company has already tested out Pebble with pilot customers who manage “tens of thousands” of spaces, according to the blog.

In addition to simply providing data, Jonas and Ng wrote that it could support dynamic pricing or curb management programs such as “smart loading zones” for commercial delivery vehicles.

“We think a low-cost, easy-install, privacy-preserving way to measure parking and curb space can help get any number of new ideas for more sustainable and innovative cities off the ground,” Jonas and Ng wrote in the blog post.
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