It can be difficult to safely drive down the street AND find a parking spot at the same time. Many locations look like parking spots until you get right next to them (Figure 1) and see the fire hydrant / driveway / red curb (Figure 2).
Fig. 1: This is a road with two opposing lanes of traffic separated by the dashed yellow line. Cars (black) are parked on both sides of the road. The red car is driving from left to right down the two-lane road. Question marks indicate possible parking spots, but which ones—if any—are valid and will also fit our red car?
Fig. 2: Unfortunately, the locations above were all disqualified for reasons that were not immediately obvious (fire hydrant, loading zone, driveway, etc.). The process of disqualifying these parking spots is a dangerous distraction to the driver!
A system with a LIDAR / radar and an integrated GPS unit would be able to constantly scan ahead for valid parking spaces.
This “SpotFinder” would work as follows:
A LIDAR unit (a laser range-finder) scans in front of the car, looking for gaps between parked cars.
If a spot is detected, SpotFinder checks the LIDAR data to see if the spot is big enough to fit your specific car.
SpotFinder checks your GPS coordinates in a street map database, to see if there are any disqualifying reasons to not park in the spot (e.g. fire hydrants, driveways, etc.) even if there is physically enough space there to fit a car.
If all the conditions above are met, SpotFinder beeps and says something like “parking spot located, ahead on your right in 60 feet, after the blue parked car.”
Fig. 3: The LIDAR unit is looking at the right side of the street at candidate parking spot “E.” The spot is big enough to fit a car, but the map data indicates the presence of a driveway. No good!
Fig. 4: Here, the LIDAR unit is assessing parking spots A, B, and C on the left side of the street.
Fig. 5: Spot F is valid, but unfortunately isn’t quite long enough to fit the red car.
PROS: Increases safety by allowing drivers to focus their attention on driving instead of evaluating parking spots.
CONS: If the map database isn’t constantly updated, the system could occasionally suggest an invalid parking spot (for example, if a new driveway was constructed where a previously-valid parking spot had been). So the driver might get some false positives of suggested (but invalid) parking spots.