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Project example: Placebook

Efficient parking space searches thanks to innovative app

Placebook is the name of the virtual parking space exchange, which in the form of an app could soon help drivers in cities find a place to park. In this research project conducted by the ZHAW School of Engineering, two institutes as well as students from the Transportation Systems, Engineering Management and Computer Science programmes are assisting in the development.

Searching for a place to park is one of the downsides to driving in cities. According to studies, drivers looking for a parking space make up around one-third of the overall traffic in city centres. The consequences of this are increased congestion and CO2 emissions, both of which could be prevented. Within the context of the ZHAW research project Placebook, an evaluation is being carried out to see how using a mobile application and the latest technology could make searching for a parking space in large cities more efficient. The Institute of Applied Information Technology (InIT) and the Institute of Data Analysis and Process Design (IDP) are leading the way.

“Whoever feeds a lot of parking spaces into the system and thus makes them available to other members will enjoy advantages when searching for a parking space themselves.”

Dr Thomas Sauter-Servaes, head of the Transportation Systems programme

Simple basic idea: Parking space sharing in the community

The basic idea is simple. The prototype of a smartphone app that enables efficient parking space matching was developed. “Drivers log in to the Placebook network and then let the community know when they are leaving a public parking space,” Thomas Sauter-Servaes, head of the Transportation Systems programme, explains. “Community members who are looking for a space at that moment find out on Placebook about the spot becoming available and can make a bid to use that space.” The key feature: The app automatically selects the most suitable searcher to receive the ‘rights’ to the parking space. It takes into consideration things like the positions of the parked member and searcher and estimated travel times to reach the space. Ideally, the person searching for a space should arrive at the spot precisely when the parked member is leaving it. This synchronised timing guarantees that no one has to wait around and that the searcher actually manages to occupy the space in the end.

The challenge lies in the details

Different designs for the awarding mechanism are currently under discussion. In addition to the necessary synchronised matching function, it would be possible to include other influential factors for the parking space allocation as well, according to Thomas Sauter-Servaes. “We are currently discussing a monetary approach in the form of money or Placebook currency, which would be based on the highest bid for a space. On the other hand, a magnanimous motivation would be more desirable, such as a type of bonus system with the member who makes a parking space available and is successful in passing it on to another Placebook user receiving status points in return.” In the latter model, the person who makes the highest bid would not automatically receive the available space but rather the community member with the highest number of status points. “This way, whoever feeds a lot of parking spaces into the system and thus makes them available to other members will enjoy advantages when searching for a parking space themselves,” Thomas Sauter-Servaes explains.

Bachelor’s theses support research

The research project has already received support from two Bachelor’s theses this year. One thesis is from the Engineering and Management programme. It focuses on the simulation of traffic processes as well as the analysis of the effectiveness of the planned parking app and its influence on the overall system. The other Bachelor’s thesis was completed by two Computer Science graduates, who developed an app prototype for their thesis. The prototype provides insight into the required system architecture. “With the app prototype, which works in conjunction with the traffic simulation, we have reached the first milestone,” comments Kurt Stockinger from the InIT. “Our medium-term goal is to test out the app in the field – in real city traffic, that is.”

“With this system, we can work together with Swiss cities and traffic planners and evaluate how parking within the city can best be or-ganised.”

Dr Mark Cieliebak, lecturer for Software Engineering, Institute of Applied Information Technology

Technology assessment

During the next project phase, the simulation system will be expanded so that it can control and analyse hundreds of virtual vehicles at the same time. The simulated vehicles are then programmed to use different strategies for their parking space search, for example targeted circling, following the parking guide system or the Placebook app. With the simulation system, realistic data can be used to analyse what effect the various measures have on the parking space search traffic. What influence would more (or fewer) available parking spaces have? To what degree will traffic in the city centre be reduced with Placebook? Which search strategy leads to the available parking space most quickly? InIT lecturer Mark Cieliebak, one of the initiators of the project, hopes that the expansion of the simulation system will also attract the interest of new project partners: “With this system, we can work together with Swiss cities and traffic planners and evaluate how parking within the city can best be organised.”

At a glance

Participating institutes and centres:

Participating Bachelor's degree programme:

Financing: Specially financed project ZHAW School of Engineering

Project status: completed