Big Brother is watching where you park!!

How a Dutch technology company changes the way cities track and fine illegal parking in the cities.

Going for drinks tonight and thinking about leaving your car wherever? Better think again!

Having spent 3 years in Geneva, I know this was common practice there. No need to mention what happens in my hometown Athens. Like most of the things in Switzerland (include Airspace and National Defense), services work one shift per day. This means that if you go for drinks or if you come back from work later than 6pm and leave before 8am next morning, feel park to park to illegally. You will not get fined.

But this is about to change. Innovation comes from people who do not adapt to their environment but adapt their environment to themselves. So the police decided not to hire more people to go after illegal parking or make them work outside normal Swiss hours, so they hired ARVOO.

ARVOO, founded in 1993, is a Dutch independent engineering company for electronics and embedded systems. They design and develop hardware and software for automated digital imaging and video processing systems. This ranges from ordinary components for image acquisition to complete image processing systems in high-end applications.

They came up with the “Scan Car” using what they call “ALPR” technology.

The “Scan Car” is far more effective than a police warden. According to Tribune de Genève, while a human can check around 80 cars an hour, the “Scan Car” can photograph 1,000 in the same time. The car was loaned by the technology provider to test the system. It roamed white and blue zones in central Geneva (Saint-Gervais, Cité, Bastions and Tranchées-Rive) for 60 days starting September 1st 2016.

As license plate photographs are taken, they enter a database where they are compared with data from high-tech parking meters and a list of cars with registered resident parking permits (license to park in specific zones in the city that you need to be resident pay 300-500$ per year according to the zone). If the meter is not sufficiently charged or the car does not have a parking permit, then it is flagged and a fine is sent to the owner. Even the plates of cars parked close together can be read. “A space of 30cm is enough” said one of the engineers of the system that employs 24 cameras.

The City of Geneva has not yet released a statement about how well the test go, but according to Tribune de Geneve, the test was totally successful and the project for full implementation of the technology will come to City Council in 2017. They expect to have similar revenue from fines but lower cost due to reduced headcount and much less illegal parking in the city combined 95% of illegal parking violators being fined.

So far, so good. Who does not want drivers in their city to fully respect driving parking laws? The question that rises is about privacy. The Swiss federal court gave clearance to use this technology but the fact that in Switzerland they will have data about where cars were parked at certain times definitely is not something to be taken lightly.

To conclude, it is expected that this technology or a similar one will be widely adopted by cities and low enforcement agencies around the world and will change how people park in the cities. If I was an investor of ARVOO, I would be really excited. Probably traffic cameras may be able to be utilized soon to give speeding tickets or fines for other violations. Long story short, in some years the big brother will always be watching and whatever traffic or parking violation we do, will be recovered and fined directly. The positive side of this is that probably by the time that this happens, self-driving cars will already be in use so we will not have to worry about this.

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3 thoughts on “Big Brother is watching where you park!!

  1. Interesting article, Alex! The Scan-Car technology will undoubtedly help curb the popularity of illegal parking because of the fines associated with it. I think that this technology may also promote the use of mass transit or other ride-sharing services so that people do not have to worry about leaving their car in a space for a long period of time. I am also thinking about the negative aspects of this technology and any kind of technology that begins to take away human involvement and consequently employment. Privacy also becomes a concern as the Scan-Car can easily begin to store data and can become a means of tracking people and the locations they visit; this issue has already arisen in Massachusetts and other locations throughout the United States with regards to red-light traffic cameras. The issue itself is not that the cameras are taking pictures of the car and license plate, the issue is that the aggregation of that data presents a privacy concern in the case of accessibility of that information.

  2. Even though I’ve been a victim of my fair share of parking tickets, I think that this is a great idea.

    In addition to the privacy issue you’ve raised, I’m also concerned about accuracy. Right now, the process sounds fairly automated – Arvoo finds that a car has been illegally parked and automatically sends the registered driver a parking ticket. Because of how fast this process is, is there a human somewhere in the chain that is confirming that Arvoo is correct? Given that it’s a startup, I think they should take extra preacautions as they scale to ensure that, if mistakes are made, Arvoo can be ahead of them to avoid a PR nightmare. They could do this by perhaps having a dispute hotline or weekly ridealongs/tests.

  3. I wonder how many people parking in the city will now just “conveniently” leave something covering their license plate to obscure it from the ARVOO cameras! On a serious note, I think this is a great system. MM mentioned a concern for technology that may replace a human’s job, and while it seems like this is performing work that simply hasn’t been done in Geneva in the past, I’m sure the technology will spread over time and could eventually jeopardize a number of jobs. Regarding a concern for privacy, it makes sense for people to be concerned about this, but I’m not sure how much I’d worry about the government knowing where I park. After all, in order to be recorded by this system you’d have to be parked on a public (government owned) street, and I’ve given up nearly all expectations of privacy in public areas.

    Security, however, would be a big concern for me. While I’m not too concerned about the parking authorities knowing where I like to park at night, I’d be quite concerned if that database was hacked and got into the wrong hands.

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