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Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs working to revolutionize public parking and transportation in American cities

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A report from The Guardian points towards the fact that a secretive subsidiary of Alphabet called Sidewalk Labs is working on services that could radically rebuild public parking and transportation in American cities. The Labs call the services “new superpowers to extend access and mobility.” This whole effort might just be the future of transit management.

This essentially means that Google is working on technology that will make it easier to drive and park in cities. The company is also creating hybrid public/private transit options. The latter is highly dependent upon ride-share services such as Uber. This means that the traditional public transport services will take a big hit.

Sidewalk Labs was established last June with a mission to “improve city life for everyone”. Until now, the subsidiary has made many developments. These include a being part of an association that deployed several hundred free Wi-Fi kiosks in New York. It is also rumoured to be building a city from scratch that is designed for self-driving cars.

The latest project of Sidewalk is offering Columbus a three-year demonstration project consisting of 100 Wi-Fi kiosks and free access to Flow. Columbus, Ohio recently won a recent $50m Smart City Challenge organized by the US Department of Transportation which is the reason Google will be running its initial tests for Flow there.

Flow– the future of transit

Flow is a cloud software that applies Google’s expertise in mapping, machine learning and big data to urban issues like public parking and traffic management. The technology used in this is similar to Google’s Street View cars. These vehicles will be used to count all the public parking spaces in a city and read roadside parking signs. Combining this data with live information from city parking meters, the algorithm will be able to estimate which spaces are still free.

Drivers looking for a spot will be directed to these free spaces.

Another interesting feature Sidewalk is proposing is called “virtualised parking”. This is a service that enables users/firms to temporarily rent private parking spaces usually reserved for shoppers and workers. Estimated value of each space stands at around $2,000 a year to the city.

Not just this, the cost of the spaces would also vary with respect to demand. And although a similar effort in San Francisco wasn’t well received, Sidewalk seems to be optimistic about the ordeal.

Redefining public transport

Imagine getting all your transit details– duration, distance, price etc– right at your fingertips. Flow will provide all this info to you, too. The service will  integrate information and payment for almost every form of transport into Google Maps.

All this is going to be run as a pilot in Columbus.

Sidewalk is currently going to be working with 90,000 low-income transit users, who might be given discounted or free bus passes, to be able to spend those subsidies on ride-share services instead. The city authorities are still worried that the services from Alphabet might endanger their traditional bus services. But if the tech giant gets the A-OK sign, it is prepared to start swapping data with the city by August. It will then implement dynamic parking by January and launch its shared mobility marketplace by next July.


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