Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
A $9 device can save you from a $50 parking ticket.
Finding a parking spot in the city is only half the battle. If you park in a garage, you might find yourself going in circles looking for your car upon return. And if you park at a metered spot, you’ll probably be checking your watch constantly. A few seconds too late, and you can be slapped with a $50, $70, or even $100 ticket.
But in a world where everything is becoming smarter—your house, your phone, and even parking meters—why can’t your car do the same? That question ran through Dani Abel Rayan’s mind as he went up and down a multi-level garage in San Francisco searching for his car back in June. It took him 20 minutes, he says, and it wasn’t the first time it happened.
So he and Drew Bratcher, both engineers and co-founders of the San Francisco startup Aware Stack, came up with a solution to ease the stress. They developed a smartphone app and Bluetooth device called AwareCar. Left in your glove department, the device—which is not much bigger than a quarter—will essentially keep your car connected to your phone.
The app knows whether you are parked at a garage or at a meter spot using public information that’s available in most major cities. If you’re parked at a metered spot, it’ll automatically remind you to set a timer. It’ll then send you notifications telling you how much time is left and if you’ve walked too far to make it back to your car in time.
The total cost is only $9, which is significantly cheaper than similar tracking devices that can run nearly $100. Judging by the success of their Kickstarter campaign, it’s just what people have been waiting for. Rayan and Bratcher have raised over $55,000—almost triple their initial goal of $15,000.
With the extra funding, Rayan says, they’ll work on adding more functions to the app based on user feedback. That includes automatically setting your phone on Do Not Disturb mode when the car is in motion and IFTTT integration, a web-based service that allows multiple apps to work together for convenience.
Despite its multiple features, the device is actually relatively cheap to build, he adds. That’s because many of the functions use sensors that are already built inside the phone. “Our phones right now have amazing [and] rich sensors, like pedometers, barometers, and a compass,”Rayan says. “It can measure the height elevation and it can measure very small changes. It has a 3D accelerometer—it knows everything.”
The pedometer, for example, tells the app how far you’ve walked from your car. For those who park in garages, the barometer, which tracks altitude, lets the app know what level your car is without having to use the phone’s wireless (which can be spotty in garages).
AwareCar won’t be available until this December, so for now, make sure to keep an eye on the time.