Imagine if your smartphone could tell you when there was an available parking spot on the street – so you can stop circling endlessly to find one by chance. ‘Parko’ aims to be that solution.
As you’ll read about in a few upcoming Sync blog posts, I recently had the chance to visit Israel’s red-hot start-up scene. The country – with a population just one-fifth that of Canada’s – is no. 2 in the world, behind the U.S., in the number of start-ups (north of 3,000) and venture capital investment.
Parko, in Tel Aviv, was one of the first companies I visited during the week-long trip. The start-up has developed a smartphone app that tells you when there’s an available street-level parking space.
As to whether there’s a need for such an app, Tomer NeuNer, Parko’s young co-founder and CEO, was 20 minutes late for our appointment because he couldn’t find a parking spot.
Just a few weeks away from its pilot launch in Israel, Parko is an iPhone and Android app that uses crowdsourcing information to connect those leaving a parking spot with those looking for one.
While walking back to their parked car, the driver of the vehicle taps the SHARE button in the app to say they’re leaving the spot, and when — such as in 2, 5 or 10 minutes – and drivers in the vicinity who’ve tapped the FIND button will see there’s a space about to be available, and where. The first one to accept the offer closes it off for everyone else. They’ll see the spot on a map and at that time can chat with the person leaving inside the app – via text or voice (VoIP) – if both parties are up for it.
When you first set up the app, you’re asked to choose what your car looks like, such as a blue Mercedes, and the size of the car (very small to very large, etc.) so an extended Escalade won’t be notified if a Mini is leaving a tight spot.
Here’s a video that further explains how the app works:
So, why would people want to share the fact they’re leaving a spot – aside from being a good citizen, that is? There’s an incentive: Parko credits. You see, while the app is free to download and with a few Parko credits to start, you need to have Parko coins to use the service.
The more spaces you give, the more Parko credits you earn. Or you can buy more Parko credits via an in-app purchase. The second incentive is to earn cool prizes or giveaways. As part of their upcoming test program in Tel Aviv, Parko has partnered with a coffee chain to provide a free cup of coffee for those who share a spot. Also part of the business model is advertising and opt-in location-based advertising.
If desired, more information can be exchanged between the parking spot sharer and finder: If you log in with Facebook instead of an email address, the other person can see what you look like. Also, the person looking for a spot can see you walking back to your car – as a stick figure – so they can gauge how far away you are to hopping behind the wheel. The person leaving the spot can see your car moving on a map (courtesy of Google Maps) as you drive towards the available spot. If you’re walking back to your car and you run into a friend, you can easily add more minutes to the time you’re leaving.
Just like other crowdsourcing apps like Waze (also developed in Israel), Parko automatically sends location and speed information. But the company wasn’t forthright with what wireless technology is used to provide this information – not GPS, they said, as it could drain the battery, therefore it’s probably through cellular data. (Parko says this is where their intellectual property is, their “secret sauce”). NeuNer says wireless information and accelerometers (that knows if you’re, say, walking back to your car) are paired with “learning algorithms” that learn about the user and our habits, in order to make the app run smoother.
For example, if you always leave the office at 5pm and then get in your car to drive home, Parko “knows” there’s a pretty good chance you’re leaving the spot when you walk towards your car at 5:05pm. In other words, most of us are creatures of habit.
Parko, which will focus on street parking and not parking lots or garages, aims to debut in North America “a few months” after it launches in Tel Aviv. Actually, Tel Aviv isn’t a bad place to start given their congested traffic and parking woes, not to mention residents here are already used to using their smartphones to pay for a spot on the street (and get text messages when the spot is about to expire!).
Likely U.S. cities Parko will debut in: New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston – and hopefully Canada after that, NeuNer says. In NYC, by the way, roughly 30 percent of cars are circling for a parking spot during peak hours, which contributes to congestion, pollution and of course, frustration, adds NeuNer.
Parko is but one of the many interesting start-ups I’ll be blogging about in the weeks to come.
Sync readers, do you think this would fly in a busy Canadian city like Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary or Montreal? Would you use it?