Sidewalk Labs will launch Flow a smart traffic and parking platform in Columbus, Ohio

Google’s Sidewalk labs will introduce Columbus, Ohio to Flow, a smart traffic platform that processes information and fare cost from every available form of transportation. A user can type a destination into Google Maps and the app suggests the best trips based on pricing and timing. Low-income riders might be able to apply their discounted public transportation fares to the cost of ride-sharing services.

The city is also amenable to Google’s self-driving car project. Columbus already monitors traffic using sensors and cameras. It also invested $76 million on a smart traffic system that will help driverless cars make their debut.

Hate city parking? Sidewalk Labs is working on that, too. Cars servicing the lab’s ride-sharing plan will be supplied with cameras that count parking spots and read public parking signs. That data will be used in conjunction with Google Maps to guide drivers toward available parking spots. Parking garages can also add their spaces to the Flow database and charge more during peak demand. Sidewalk says Flow could bring the city $2,000 per participating parking space each year. The city could have dynamic parking prices in place by January 2017.

Flow would also vary the cost of parking spaces according to demand. On weekends, prices might drop in business areas while they climb near music venues. Sidewalk claims this would increase income from parking by 10%. However, Pozdnoukhov says that variable pricing is far from proven. “A pilot project in San Francisco was not very well received,” he says. “If Sidewalk can show value to drivers, it could be a different game, but that’s easier said than done.”

Sidewalk is also working on a platform that calculates where traffic cops can give out the most parking tickets. Sidewalk claims Columbus could make $4 million more in fines each year.

Sidewalk said in documents that Flow would use camera-equipped vehicles, like Google’s Street View cars, to count all the public parking spaces in a city and read roadside parking signs. It would then combine data from drivers using Google Maps with live information from city parking meters to estimate which spaces were still free. Arriving drivers would be directed to empty spots.

“Only Google or Apple are in a position to track parking occupancy this way, without expensive sensors on poles or embedded in the tarmac,” says Alexei Pozdnoukhov, director of the Smart Cities Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley.

One of the Sidewalk’s larger projects is replacing old phone booths in New York City with ad-covered pillars that provide free Wi-Fi to users within a 150-foot radius. If all goes well in the Big Apple, the project will spread to other metropolitan areas soon.

Sidewalk is initially offering its cloud software, called Flow, to Columbus, Ohio, the winner of a recent $50 million Smart City Challenge organized by the US Department of Transportation.

Sidewalk Labs was spun out from Google last June with a mission to “improve city life for everyone”. Since then, it was part of a consortium that deployed several hundred free Wi-Fi kiosks in New York and is rumored to be designing a city from the ground up for self-driving cars. Now, it’s offering Columbus a three-year demonstration project consisting of 100 Wi-Fi kiosks and free access to Flow.

SOURCES -BizJournal, Sidewalk, The Guardian UK