Today we interviewed Dr Aftab Khan who is a Principal Research Engineer at the Bristol Research & Innovation Laboratory for Toshiba Research Labs. He has a PhD in Machine Learning and BEng (Hons) in Electronic Engineering from the University of Surrey. As part of the EU H2020 REPLICATE research project, Aftab and his colleagues have developed the ParkUs app to help people find car parking spaces quickly and more conveniently.
1. What does Toshiba Research Labs do and how does it contribute to the REPLICATE research project?
Since its inception in 1998, the Bristol Research & Innovation Laboratory has been at the cutting edge of research developing technology such as next generation wireless networking, artificial intelligence and ‘smart’ systems for energy, transport and medical applications.
Today, as part of the REPLICATE research project, the team is responsible for creating ParkUs – a novel smartphone app to help drivers find a local car parking space quickly and easily.
2. What is ParkUs?
ParkUs is a smartphone app that uses crowdsourced data to give users an idea of car parking availability in real-time. Users can enter their destination details such as a street name or postcode to help them find out quickly and easily how likely they’ll be able to find a parking space.
3. What is the main aim of ParkUs?
A number of studies have shown that vehicles cruising around to find a car parking space are a significant cause of congestion and pollution. ParkUs aims to:
- Help people find parking easily and quickly. If there is no parking available, people can consider if they should drive or use another mode of transport
- Reduce the amount of time searching for car parking – cutting the amount of fuel, money and CO2 emissions in Bristol.
4. We have heard about a few different parking apps recently. What’s the advantage of using ParkUs?
ParkUs is one of the very few apps that doesn’t rely on specific infrastructure, such as proximity sensors in parking bays, to give people an idea of car parking availability. Instead, ParkUs uses feedback and data collected from users’ about their ability to park.
5. What data does ParkUs need to collect?
The ParkUs app relies on feedback and data from users about their ability to park, so it works best when lots of people use it. Precise location and sensor data such as GPS is sourced from users’ mobile phones to create a real-time map of parking availability. For example, if a user is looking for parking space and does not stop in a certain street the app will assume there are no parking spaces available.
6. Who is your target audience?
The target audience for ParkUs is anyone who is over 17 years old, drives a car, is reasonably comfortable with technology and lives, works or travels to cities or built-up residential areas with limited parking availability.
7. What are the main features of ParkUs?
- A real-time parking availability map that’s colour coded for easy use
- Discreet – doesn’t distract away from driving
- Works anywhere.
8. What is the biggest challenge of the ParkUs app?
ParkUs relies on feedback and data from users about their ability to park. This means it works best when lots of people use it.
The map is colour coded based on the confidence of the information and data collected. For example, a car parking space that is bold green illustrates that the app has high confidence in the space being available, as users’ real-time data can verify this. Whereas a car parking space that is light green, means the app has had to use previous information such as the day the of the week to estimate if a parking space is available.