Auto-Meter Reader Feeder Keeps Meter-Maids at Bay

Planting your car just about anywhere almost always comes at a price; and, if you’re overdue for your return, odds are good that you’ll end up paying a much steeper price than intended. Parking meters are wonderful devices at telling the authorities just how much time you have left until you’re ticketworthy. [Zack] figured that five–even ten minutes late—is an absurd reason to pay a fine, so he’s developed a tool that will preload a meter with a few extra coins when the authorities get too close.

The law-enforcement detection system puts together of number of tools and techniques that we’re intimately familiar with: 3D printing, Arduino, a photoresistor, and a proximity (PIR) sensor. At the code level, [Zack] filters his analog photo resistor with a rolling average to get a clean signal that triggers both by day and by night. The trigger? Two possibilities. The PIR sensor detects curious law enforcement officers while the filtered photoresistor detects the periodic twirling siren lights. Both events will energize a solenoid to drop a few extra coins through a slide and into the meter slot.

For a collection of well-known components, [Zack] could’ve packed his contraption into a Altoids Tin and called it a day. Not so. As an interaction designer, looks could make or break the experience. For this reason, he opts for a face-hugging design with a steampunk twist. Furthermore, to achieve compatibility across a range of devices, [Zack’s] CAD model is the result of adjusting for various meter profiles from images he snapped in the urban wilderness. The result? A clean, authentic piece of equipment compatible with a family of meters.

For the shrewd-eyed observers, [Zack’s] first video post arrived online in 2011, but his work later resurfaced at a presentation in the 2015 Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Conference by his former design instructor [Eric Paulos], who was eager to show off [Zack’s] work. For a deeper dive into the upcoming second edition, head on over to [Zack’s] image feed.

45 thoughts on “Auto-Meter Reader Feeder Keeps Meter-Maids at Bay

    1. Paying the meter isn’t enough, the law usually says after an hour you need to leave.

      Put in as much money as you like, once that initial hour is up you’ll get a parking ticket every time the inspectors walk past.

      You can’t ‘buy’ a parking spot.

      FWIW most meters are installed not because the city wants the cash (but hey, we’ll take it!), but because local residents don’t want you parking there, and the businesses want the spots freed up for new customers.

      1. That strategy worked really well on me. I got a $100 ticket for failing to leave after an hour even though I had come back to put the money in the meter. My crime was in not moving my car into another empty space of which there were four or five on each side of me. I haven’t gone back to that area to shop in last ten years, it is not worth the risk. Plenty of other places with decent parking lots to chose from.

        1. It did work on you, you remember to leave now or find somewhere that allows extended stays.

          BTW, rolling back to the the empty spot behind you doesn’t work either. The wording is usually ‘leave the area’, not the spot. Once your hour is up you need be out of that group of parking spaces, so drive to the next block, not the next spot.

          They do licence plate recognition now, the old ‘wipe off the chalk mark’ days are gone.

          1. Add another mark for on-line shopping with delivery. Making people avoid parking nearby may be what a business is wanting as their immediate goal, but I doubt they truly want their customers to find a solution that leaves them out.

          2. which sucks if you work at one of those establishments and don’t have anywhere else close enough by to be safe in which to park…

            I see no reason to support businesses with that kind of draconian parking policy. Sure, it’s not technically their fault, but they do have collective power if they should choose to stand up for their customers/employees.

        2. If I was in a similar situation and had to go to that place, my solution would be to park further away where there isn’t a 1 hour restriction (ideally where there is free “unlimited” parking) and walk (or bicycle) there. But that probably won’t qualify as a hack…

          1. …and that’s the sort of behavior that attracts parking meters.

            Here’s how it works. People drive to work, businesses complain that customers can’t park. Parking meters go up, so the people move to the next free spots, say near a train station and use that to complete the journey. Local residents and businesses complain about the influx… and around you go again.

            If you don’t get parking meters you instead get ‘resident only’ parking, and/or 4-hour limits to discourage all day parking.

            My favourite story was a disabled couple who petitioned council to make the area in front of their house a handicapped parking zone, and then complained when other people (legitimately) used ‘their’ spot. “Suck it up” was the response.

        3. This strategy always backfires in the long run. The businesses complain and government enacts stricter parking laws. The new laws discourage shoppers from entering the area. The businesses end up closing and the urban blight cycle continues.

    2. Yep, as if anybody wants the law to catch them strapping some weird contraption to the parking meter. They’d have you for fraud, because there’s no way that you can definitively prove that your device wasn’t gaming them at the point at which you had it strapped to the meter.

      VERY bad idea.

  1. Up where I live (Keene, NH) a group of people called “robin hooders” walk down the street ahead of the meter maid putting coins in all the expired meters.

    They have gained the admiration and thanks of the average Joe’s in town, but boy did the city make a stink about this! The y Falsely accused people of harassment (of the meter maids), local judges ruled against statute (overturned on appeal), and (the horror!) parking fee profits plummeted.

    I rather think they’ll continue doing this until the city gives up and removes the meters.

    That’s one way to force a change in the system – make it unprofitable.

    http://freekeene.com/category/robin-hood/

    1. Welcome to 50 years ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surfers_Paradise_Meter_Maids

      When the meters go they put in 1-hour spots instead. Fines actually go up as does council revenue (they get their cut of the fines).

      While revenue is a big plus, the primary aim of parking meters is to promote turnover of parking spots. The more customers who can park and buy stuff, the happier local businesses are. Who does council try to keep happy? (Hint – not you.)

      1. You make a fair point, but I think the “Free Keene” Robin Hooders would like to discover this for themselves. Your rational certainly sounds plausible, but I’m not entirely certain that outcome is a foregone conclusion.

        Additionally, they’ve done a really good job of keeping the town council unhappy. If 1-hour spots appear and are enforced, I think the Robin Hooders would make the town council *more* unhappy, not less.

        We’ll see. My money is on them.

        1. As the old adage goes “be careful of what you ask for, you might just get it.”

          They’ll win, but only the battle and not the war. The problem here is the council are being dicks (small town yeah? (ah, Google says yes)) and those sort of people like being vindictive when made unhappy. You’ll may the parking meters removed, but either way you’ll get more aggressive policing. Everyone loses (even the council as policing parking is expensive).

          All a bit pointless, the ‘Robin Hoods’ can feed the meters all they like, and the council can still fine people for overstaying (time limit trumps meter being fed). Council that aren’t comprised of dicks quickly realise this.

          The entire point of meters is that parking is a scarce resource, and meters & fines are a way of sharing that resource fairly (interpret fairly as you wish). Both the Robin Hoods & council seems to have missed that.

          1. Wow. Just roll over and accept things as they are, can’t change people, don’t bother trying, all changes will be worse…

            Apropos of nothing, what’s your background? Meaning, what experience do you have with, like, anything that makes you believe change is impossible?

            Because I well and truly don’t believe you know what you’re talking about.

            Oh, and the Free Keene group (and related Free State project) has already made changes. I don’t think they actually care about angry council members, so long as they get results.

          2. I spend 5 years working for for a council doing parking (system design, software etc).

            That was was big city where we had a few thousand meters, but the same scenarios played out.

            I grew up in a piddly little town like Keene, all small town councils are full of dicks. Get rid of the dicks first.

          1. Nope, that’s really how it works.

            Nobody (bar you) wants you to stay in a parking spot all day. The meter is saying ‘get whatever it is you’re doing done and get out’.

        1. Sure, but the resources should be managed in a logical sense.

          A nearby local town went up in arms when the town council had installers come in and stick meters on every single parking space, including those that belonged to private residences. The area is comprised of a mix of old homes and businesses. Imagine a house that’s a deli on street level and living space on the second floor. For some businesses, the public parks in the “front” the residents park in the “back”. Others have a wide skirt that amounts to a driveway. The system worked for the better part of forty years.

          The town residents woke up one morning to one hour meters in every parking space, including spaces that are privately owned and maintained by the property owner. Meanwhile, the town council closed the only parking lot in their possession.

          To boil such a complex issue down would take pages and pages of text, but in a nutshell, many of the local people have taken to cutting the meters down.It’s not so much the meters themselves, but the fact that the town council refuses to allocate parking for the residents who live there, that the parking meters are set for one hour when the average visitor parks anywhere from two to three hours, and that the town council refuses to re-open a thirty space parking lot (I believe it belongs to a now-closed museum). Closing the lot angered someone so much, they used heavy equipment to take down the barriers to open the spaces back up.

          Sure, I understand managing limited resources, but there is a serious failure in someone’s brain function when they botch their resource management.

          Another city decided to allow a developer to tear up a parking lot holding (IIRC) around 250 or so spaces to build, wait for it…. a new hotel with 250 or so parking space parking garage. Think about the logic behind that. I’ll wait here until you figure it out.

          I just read in the paper another city building a high profile entertainment venue realized they don’t have enough hotel rooms. Oops :) They probably don’t have enough parking either. :P

          1. Wait a few thousand years for intelligence to evolve a bit more.

            Probably won’t help, give councils are usually run by idiots, people are always out to make a buck, and when you combine the two…

            Where I live they’re building apartment blocks that have no parking. None. Zero. Zip.

            Apparently everyone who’s going to live there is a car-hating hippy or a millennial hipster who’ll ride their fixie everywhere.

  2. We haven’t had meters since early 60’s usually 2 hr per block, they used to note the valve-stem position on paper. It’s gone thru private and city operation.
    Look up Zebler. He cost Turner Broadcasting a million in fines from Boston police and Homeland Security.
    The prank of glowing thingies promoting Aqua Teen Hunger Force the Movie bound with duct tape and batteries hung on public property all over Boston……… Oh, he does great lightshows still. Have you been Shpongled?

  3. I get that they want new customers in those spaces but what about customer service are people so disposable that you only want there money then when they are dry shove them out for a new punter. Seams cruel and inhuman to me.

    1. How does it seem when you want to go to the shops but you can’t find anywhere to park because everyone who has already parked is there for the duration?
      The people who want to sell things are necessarily matched by the people who want to buy things, otherwise trade doesn’t work.

  4. The thing could have actualy “read” the meter instead, adding money automatically when you get late, letting you keep it if you come back early. But no, it’s so much “cooler” to paint the cops as the bad guys and outsmart them.

  5. We have this pending disaster here in .CI, the useless Government rather than taxing the rich want to introduce paid parking :-(
    Needless to say all the traders are spitting feathers because they will lose what little business remains to UK online companies.

    Any scheme that avoids paying unnecessarily gets a thumbs up from me, if everyone uses it then the current usurious system will eventually get changed.

    On the subject of 3d printers, it seems that a guy in Aus got busted for making guns with his..

  6. Has it not occured to someone to simply look into making a system that auto-reparks cars in adjacent spaces; this is a much less complex task than a full on autodrive ™ system such as Google use and the risks are nowhere near as high.
    All points radar, some servos and a failsafe to detect if someone walks behind the car with a mechanism to mechanically limit the revs and cut engine power so the car can’t go out of control if the software goes Strange Loop.

  7. Hey, I just recalled the perfect hackaday olution. On a British TV show I saw, one character had what looked like the ‘boot’ police attach to a car, so it can’t be driven away before they tow it. It wasn’t.

    When that’s on a car, the meter maid with drive by without ticketing.

  8. This is a pretty fun project! I kind of wish my city still used these archaic meters. Now, the meter maids are just camera cars driving around taking pictures of license plates, then these pictures are cross-referenced by a program with the plates registered on the parking system. Because of the system, you can just reload your “meter” from a cell phone app. I love it, although I get caught way more than I did when checking was done by a person on foot.

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