Parking Software Lets Drivers Buy And Sell Info About Available Spaces

Financial incentives are more likely than simple goodwill to result in reliable information.

Empty Car Park

Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr

Rather than hunting for an empty parking spot, or even getting out and letting your empty car hunt for you, a new system relies on good old-fashioned capitalism to find open spaces. With TruCentive, drivers can buy and sell information about available spots.

It's not the first software system designed to crowdsource free parking — even Google was in the game at one point with its now-defunct Open Spot. But it is the first system to give people incentives for providing information, instead of relying on their goodwill. Baik Hoh and colleagues at Nokia Research Center in Palo Alto believe incentivizing information will make it more reliable, even when it comes from the unreliable mobile masses.

The team started with incentives for providing any parking info at all. Then they assigned value to parking spots according to likely demand. A spot in Manhattan during rush hour would be worth more than a spot at a suburban mall on a weekend, for instance. The more intrinsically valuable the spot, the more money someone can earn by providing information about it. Finally, information providers will also get a bonus if someone actually parks in the available spot. It's not totally clear how the money would be exchanged, but NewSci says payment could work through something like Facebook credits, wherein people pay real money for virtual credits that can be used to purchase services. It could also conceivably work through PayPal.

The system was presented at the IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Conference in Anchorage last week. Hoh and colleagues say they tried it out with Amazon's Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing service, and it seems feasible. Now if they would just bring it to downtown during baseball games.