Student Aims to Solve Virginia Tech Parking with App

Meet Virginia Tech junior, Eric Bianchi. Bianchi, a civil engineering major, has formed the Parking Mobile App Club, which aims to solve parking issues at the university by creating a mobile parking app to detect parking lot volume and parking when spots are vacant. The club plans to change the way students, faculty, staff, and visitors handle their entire parking experience by determining where to park and what spots are open on campus. Find out how they’re changing the parking game for the Virginia Tech community:

Q: Tell us a little about the Parking Mobile App Club? How did you start parking app, and why you decided it was necessary for VT students?

Eric: The club was founded this year in an effort to help out with the growing parking problems at Virginia Tech. For example, the university is expanding and they’re getting rid of a lot of parking — as they’re doing that, parking is becoming a bigger issue. It’s not only a problem for students, but it’s a problem for faculty and graduate students. We started the club with the intention to create a useful and accurate way to describe real-time parking for people. Having this information on your mobile phone or laptop is the ideal way to communicate parking to users.


Q: What are some benefits of the app?

E: On the surface, it is simple. The app will provide students, parents, faculty, visitors, etc. with user-friendly, up-to-date, parking information. But it’s a double-edged sword because it may also have the potential to help Parking Services find violations.

The benefits go beyond parking assistance. The data that is gathered could be used by Virginia Tech for security measures, revenue data, or the general research being done on connected cities. For example, if RFID technology is used, we may be able to send security notifications to those whose cars are in that parking lot.

There are also inherent effects of the parking information. We hypothesize that if people can find open parking quicker — then driving time and carbon emissions would be reduced. Less driving means less accidents, and less carbon emission means less pollution.

Q: Has the team decided on the app’s name?

E: Right now we’re the Parking MoBile App Club, but that’s not the name we want to go with. We haven’t gotten there yet, but will soon.

Q: How many people are involved in the app from the club?

E: The club has 25 members and is divided up into teams — we have people focusing on the map building portion, web design and coding, mobile interface, a hardware team to conduct and develop our sensor research and quality assurance to test our code. I would say that everyone’s involved in the app, but we try to define roles the best we can and we really hold everyone accountable.

Q: What’s the timeline for the app?

E: It’s divided into three phases. The first phase, which is the phase we’re in now, is focused on networking, building our base, and establishing our club’s sustainability. As far as the app, it’s validating the map we have currently, which was given to us by Parking Services. We would then take that map and have it automatically change by day and time. Imagine someone who looks at the app and wants to see where they can park on campus at 3pm on Friday — they could see the availability of spots through the app. For example, if it’s a Tuesday at 3pm and it shows something different than on Saturday at 5pm — then we will know that different times and dates changes affects occupancy.  It’ll be static data, but it will still be useful. Essentially, it will be a synthesized, user-friendly version of the parking lot information that is out there. This phase is guaranteed to be completed by the end of this semester, and we hope to release this version to the public in the spring.

The next phase is the prototype phase. This may start this semester and carry over, but we want this phase to be done by the end of spring 2017. By “done”, we mean we want to have at least run all of our sensor tests; testing Lidar, security cameras, parking meter sensors, RFID tag readers,  ultrasonic sensors , inductive sensors, etc. and ultimately decide where we’re going to use each element. For example, we might use parking meter sensors at certain locations on campus, but not at others.

During the fall of next year, we’ll launch phase three. Once we have all of our data, we’d like to have a group of Beta testers to test out the app and determine where we need to improve. We want that to be complete before we launch it to the university.

Q: How are you approaching funding for the club?

E: There’s a couple places we’re looking into, one is the Student Engineer Council (SEC), which is a group of engineers that fund other engineer organizations. They raise money from hosting engineering events on campus, such as The Engineering Expo. We’ll be proposing our idea to them at the end of the month. Another potential source of funding is through ICAT, which gives grants to research projects at the end of each month. We’re also looking to see if the university will provide funding to us once we can prove that our app works. We will also be open to vendors who sell security cameras or Lidar detection.


**This is the current direction of the club, content is subject to change.