Parking Meters That Were A Bit Too Smart For Their Own Good

A common sight in automobile-congested cities such as New York are parking meters lining the curbs next to parking spots. They’re an autonomous way for the city to charge for the space taken by cars parked along the sidewalk near high-traffic commercial areas, incentivizing people to wrap up their business and move their vehicle out of a costly or time-limited parking space.

The parking meter is such a mundane device most people wouldn’t look at them twice, but on the inside it’s fascinating to see how they’re engineered, how that’s changed through the years, and how a software bug handicapped thousands of digital meters at the start of 2020.

The Origin Of The Parking Meter

One of Carl C. Magee’s earliest parking meter designs, filed for patent in 1932.

Parking meters were originally commissioned in the 1930s by the government of Oklahoma City, due to the rapidly increasing number of automobiles, and therefore demand for parking space. Up until then, the city used patrolling policemen to regulate parking space, but they couldn’t keep up with the pace of the increased traffic and the lack of available parking space made business drop around downtown shops.

The first widely-adopted parking meter was dubbed “Black Maria”, a machine patented in 1935 by Carl C. Magee and Gerald Hale and first installed in the city in July of that year. This was a completely automated mechanical device made to solve the problem of regulating the time a driver can park their car in a given spot. It would take a nickel as payment, inserted into the mechanism by rotating a handle which also served to wind a clock spring. This clock would then tick down the remaining time the user could remain parked there, which could range from 15 minutes to an hour depending on the location.

An early Black Maria design, circa 1933.

Within days store owners noticed a positive effect in their profits thanks to the increase in customers with the regulated parking. What’s more, the coins collected from the meters also generated revenue for the city, and so, parking meters started spreading throughout the city. And as decades went, the mechanics were improved upon. A window was added into which a patrolling officer could easily look to check if the right amount of money (or money at all) was inserted. Separate panels for the coins to be easily collected without risking damage to the rest of the internal clockwork were also added.

The evolution of parking meters eventually passed through meters that could take care of parking spaces on either side of it, halving the amount of necessary poles per sidewalk. Electronic models starting appearing in the 1990s and eventually connectivity added. With meters all hooked up to the same network, the symbiotic connection between the parking meter and your spot was severed. It didn’t matter where your car was parked anymore; you could simply take your printed ticket and put it on your dashboard to be legally parked. Further advancements led to numbers spots that can be paid from any kiosk in the city, or though a smartphone app. But those digital advancements don’t always translate into reliability…

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Students Use Low Tech Hacks On High Tech Parking Enforcer

If you are a college student and you get too many parking fines, you are going to get in trouble. But one school didn’t count on students hacking their high tech parking violation deterrent. Some even got free internet from the devices.

You pay your taxes or — in the case of students — your tuition. But still, the city or university wants you to pay to park your car. In the old days, you’d get your car towed. But the people running the parking lot don’t really like having to share the fees they charge you with a tow truck driver. Many places clamp a device to your tire that makes it impossible to drive. Oklahoma University decided that was too much trouble, also, so they turned to Barnacle. Barnacle is a cheaper alternative to the old parking clamp. In sticks to your windshield so you can’t see to drive. The suction cups have an air pump to keep them secure and a GPS squeals if you move the car with it on there anyway.

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Sudo Find Me A Parking Space; Machine Learning Ends Circling The Block

If you live in a bustling city and have anyone over who drives, it can be difficult for them to find parking. Maybe you have an assigned space, but they’re resigned to circling the block with an eagle eye. With those friends in  mind, [Adam Geitgey] wrote a Python script that takes the video feed from a web cam and analyzes it frame by frame to figure out when a street parking space opens up. When the glorious moment arrives, he gets a text message via Twilio with a picture of the void.

It sounds complicated, but much of the work has already been done. Cars are a popular target for machine learning, so large data sets with cars already exist. [Adam] didn’t have to train a neural network, either–he found a pre-trained Mask R-CNN model with data for 80 common objects like people, animals, and cars.

The model gives a lot of useful info, including a bounding box for each car with pixel coordinates. Since the boxes overlap, there needs be a way to determine whether there’s really a car in the space, or just the bumpers of other cars. [Adam] used intersection over union to do this, which is conveniently available as a function of the Mask R-CNN model’s library. The function returns a score, so it was just a matter of ignoring low-scoring bounding boxes.

[Adam] purposely made the script adaptable. A few changes here and there, and you could be picking up tennis balls with a robotic collector or analyzing human migration patterns on your block in no time. Or change it up and detect all the cars that run the stop sign by your house.

Thanks for the tip, [foamyguy].

Faulty Parking Meter Tracking System? RFID To The Rescue!

How often do you see problems that need fixing? How often do you design your own solutions to them — even if they won’t be implemented at scale? Seeing that many of the municipal parking lots in his native Sri Lanka use a paper ticketing system which is prone to failure, [Shazin Sadakath] whipped up his own solution: an efficient RFID tag logging system.

Digging out an HZ-1050 RFID reader — as well an RFID card and two tags — [Sadakath] set to work connecting it to his Raspberry Pi and cooking up a batch of code and a dashboard to work with. A Python script — using a PiGPIO library — reads the Wiegand Format RFID number, storing it in an SQLite3 database. A Bootstrap, Javascript, and JQuery trifecta make up the dashboard that pulls the RFID info from said server and organizes it into a functional format.

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Building A Vehicle Parking Camera

rpi-backup-camera

We’re never really sure what to call these things. When we say “back up camera” it sounds distinctly like a redundancy system for when the primary camera fails to work. But it is used for when you move in reverse in an automobile. [Jeremy Blythe] built the distance sensing video system using a Raspberry Pi board as the brain.

The flexibility of Linux and the power of the RPi board ended up making it pretty easy to get everything working together. He’s using a Microsoft Lifecam Cinema HD camera, which connects to one of the USB ports on the board. Just above that you can see the infrared distance sensor which is connected to the RPi’s GPIO header using one of Adafruit’s Pi Cobbler breakout boards. This also facilitates the connection to the 176×220 color LCD screen.

In the video after the break you can see [Jeremy] testing out the system by moving his hand in front of the sensor. Python is used to grab the image from the camera, draw a circle on it, and overlay the distance in centimeters at the bottom. Once his hand is within 30cm the overlay turns red and the work STOP is displayed. Pretty neat!

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Garage Parking Monitor Guides You In Every Time

THEPARKINGSPOTTER2

The live Adafruit Show and Tell stream from last weekend featured this project put together by [Silent Jeff]. He’s called “Silent” because when it came time to present his project on the show his microphone wasn’t working. As you can see in the video after the break, [PT] and [Ladyada] worked together to explain the project (of which they had no prior knowledge) using a game of charades. This is one of the follow-up images he sent them which details his parking spotter project.

[Ladyada] compliments [Jeff] on the finished look of the device and we agree. Not only does this do a great job of letting a driver know if they have pulled far enough into the garage, but it’s finished appearance ensures it won’t ever look out-of-place. The two silver discs near the lower end of the box are the sensors of an ultrasonic rangefinder. You mount this box so that the sensor is measuring distance between itself and the bumper of your vehicle. As the distance decreases the LEDs change to let you know when to stop. Inside the case you’ll find a voltage regulator and single-chip running the Arduino bootloader. [Jeff] says this is just his second Arduino project and we hope that at this rate we’ll be looking for big things from him in the not too distant future!

This is basically the same idea as cars that use parking assist sensors in the bumper. It’s just attached to the building instead of to the vehicle itself.

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Black Hat 2009: Parking Meter Hacking

For day two of Black Hat, we sat in on on [Joe Grand], [Jacob Appelbaum], and [Chris Tarnovsky]’s study of the electronic parking meter industry. They decided to study parking meters because they are available everywhere, but rarely considered from a security perspective.

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