Alphabet (Google) Might Win Smart Cities Transportation Business Model

And the winner of coming smart cities initiatives might well be…..Google. Sustainable business models are the key problem for smart cities initiatives. By some estimates, up to 30 percent of U.S. urban car traffic is created by people looking for parking spaces.

In the U.S. “Smart Cities Challenge,” Columbus, Ohio has won a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop a smart transportation capability.

Sidewalk Labs (part of Alphabet, formerly part of Google) is one of many U.S. firms working to support parts of the Columbus project. Sidewalk is initially offering its Flow software to Columbus.

Flow applies Google’s expertise in mapping, machine learning and big data to urban problems such as public parking. Sidewalk says Flow would use camera-equipped vehicles, like Google’s Street View cars, to count all the public parking spaces in a city and read roadside parking signs.

Then Flow would then combine data from drivers using Google Maps with live information from city parking meters to estimate which spaces were still free. Arriving drivers would be directed to empty spots.

“Only Google or Apple are in a position to track parking occupancy this way, without expensive sensors on poles or embedded in the tarmac,” says Alexei Pozdnoukhov, director of the Smart Cities Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley.

Sidewalk also hopes to persuade private parking garages to add their spaces to Flow’s database, and even proposes something called “virtualized parking”. A bit like Airbnb for cars, this would allow retailers and offices to temporarily rent private parking spaces usually reserved for shoppers and workers.

So there is the sustainable business model, in part. Revenues from sales of virtualized parking spaces might be worth $2,000 a year to the city, for each rented spot, also using surge pricing that varies prices by the level of demand.

Flow also would allow parking meter staffs to plot the most-efficient routes, generating perhaps $4 million in additional parking infraction revenue.

By incorporating data from ridesharing and public transportation modes, Flow could estimate the cost of a journey, as well as travel time, using everything from buses and taxis to Uber, Lyft, car-share services like Zipcar and even bike-shares.

Sidewalk Labs was spun out from Google with a mission to “improve city life for everyone,” and is providing use of the Flow software and 100 public Wi-Fi kiosks in Columbus.
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