Smart transportation software developer teams with SAP

If Streetline Networks CEO Zia Yusuf has his way, guided parking apps will become as prevalent as traffic lights.

You've got to love some of the stats that green technology companies throw around because sometimes they highlight the sheer futility of some of our "typical" behaviors.

For instance, San Francisco-based start-up Streetline Networks throws around a figure from "experts" that suggests up to 30 percent of the traffic congestion in your "typical" city comes from people driving around to find a parking spot. Note to Streetline: the town next to mine, Ridgewood, N.J., would definitely throw that statistic out of whack. On the upside.

In any event, helping drivers make smarter driver decisions is one of the first foci for Streetline, which is working with municipal governments to deploy low-power wireless sensor networks to help provide this information. The sensors will transmit real-time data, such as whether or not a meter is engaged. From the driver's perspective, this would save time driving down a street that is obviously completed full up. From the city's perspective, this could help guide parking meter enforcers to meters that are expired. Expect parking tickets to get more common if solutions like these become widely used.

The reason that I'm writing about Streetline now is that the company has just forged a partnership with SAP, under which the companies hope (potentially) to integrate their software. Potential combinations could include an integration of Streetline with BusinessObjects or with mobile software from Sybase. The deal isn't all that surprising, considering that Streetline CEO Zia Yusuf used to work for SAP. He says the alliance will help speed the development of smart parking solutions.

"Guided parking will become as prevalent as traffic lights," Yusuf predicts.

That's a pretty bold prediction.

The reason that Streetline chose parking as its first focus is because the return on investment possibilities are so compelling, according to Yusuf. Not only does it save drivers time, but it helps ensure better management of potential revenue for city governments. The focus of initial pilots for the technology has been in California, Florida, Texas, Hawaii and Texas, at the municipal level. Yusuf says Streetline is preparing its first deployment in a parking garage. The idea is that you would be guided to spots that are open.

Intellectually speaking, what Streetline is doing is very compelling, but here's my main concern: how the alerts are communicated to drivers. In the garage application, one might envision big signage that doesn't cause you to have to look down at a mobile device. But what about if you're on the street. Do you have to look down at your mobile phone? Does the software become part of your global positioning satellite (GPS) system? Is it built into the telematics systems of new vehicles? Probably all of the above. But with state governments passing laws that forbid the use of mobile devices in cars and evidence building around the potential for dangerous distraction from technology while driving, I worry about the potential fender benders caused by two people zooming toward the same spot at the same time. Not to sound like a downer, but this is one of those applications that sounds great in theory but needs much more exploration in practice. Looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

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