Take your ticket with you

London's Heathrow Airport has installed a new car tracking system in Terminal 5, a terminal the size of...well, it sounds big.
Written by Ed Gottsman, Contributor on

London's Heathrow Airport has installed a new car tracking system in Terminal 5, a terminal the size of...well, it sounds big. Ten "football pitches" (quoting The Mail, here--as an American, I have no idea what they're talking about) would fit on each of its five floors which in total house almost 4,000 spaces. It's a complex in which you are pretty much guaranteed to lose track of your car between the time you park and the time you return from your trip.

But fear not. Terminal 5 has the most advanced indoor car tracking system in production today. When you enter, it picks a space for you and guides you to it using illuminated arrows embedded in the floor. When you return, just put your ticket into one of the convenient kiosks and a 3D map pops up showing you exactly where your car is parked. Voila! All the healthy exercise you might have gotten dragging your luggage up and down the aisles is avoided.

So What? All of this presupposes that you remember to take your ticket with you rather than leaving it in your car (my default behavior, alas). The system might be improved with some sort of backup mechanism: fingerprints, say...or entering your license plate number on your return (the system snaps your plate number on entry--there's an auto-payment service that uses the number to charge your account). But these are mere quibbles.

There's an interesting Green angle to the system: Airport officials estimate that it will reduce carbon emissions by 397 tons per year because cars will spend less time roaming around looking for spaces. (One thing that bugs me about carbon estimates like this one is that they never give the denominator: is it a 397-ton reduction out of 397 million tons total? If so, I'm not impressed. 397 out of 3,970, on the other hand, would be pretty good.)

It's not too hard to imagine a similar outdoor service provided by spy satellites or (more plausibly) urban video surveillance nets. Text the service from your phone and get back a map to the nearest empty spot. I'd pay, I don't know, $1 a pop for a service like that. (Of course, with this system--unlike Heathrow's--others could easily take "your" spot before you arrive. What the service saves in carbon and congestion it may make up in fist fights and lawsuits.)

In any case, Heathrow is to be congratulated for addressing a perennial and frustrating problem and I for one happily anticipate foregoing much needed exercise next time I'm there.

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