The U.S. Department of Education estimates that each year, more than 4,800 U.S. colleges and universities enroll approximately 18,000,000 students, many of who commute to class on a daily basis. With limited parking an issue on many campuses, many of these students waste countless hours each school year hunting for a parking spot.
If you’ve ever experienced the battle for on-campus parking, Ideator Yago Arconada, a nonengineering student at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), feels your pain. So much so that he’s actually doing something about it. Tired of wasting time scouring UCSD’s many parking lots, he is creating an app, called Spark, that will make parking much easier for college students across the country.
“My friends who live off campus often arrive late or even miss class because they can’t find parking,” said Arconada. “The problem seems to get worse every year as more students commute to school but the number of parking spots remains the same. I figured that there had to be a simple solution, and that’s when I came up with the idea for Spark.”
What’s the Problem?
At most college campuses, parking spots are at a premium. Moreover, they’re often scattered around the campus in many different lots rather than one central parking structure. As a result, students who commute to school must randomly hunt for parking spots each day – wasting time and gas and creating more air pollution. This problem also extends to other large venues, such as shopping malls and airports, where drivers often compete for limited parking spaces.
What’s the Big Idea?
Spark eliminates the need to hunt for parking by providing a user-friendly tool that identifies the number of available spots in a parking structure. The way the app works is by retrieving data from counting the entrance/exit of cars with a photosensitive cell which feeds the information into the application, says Arconada. “We will have four sensors on each entrance/exit that will feed the information back to a database through a small computer.” The app gives instantaneous updates on available parking spots by recording the number of vehicles entering and exiting the parking lot. Armed with this information, drivers can easily identify available parking spots before entering the parking structure. Spark will also help reduce CO2 emissions by minimizing the need to drive around looking for parking.
Where is it Headed?
After integrating the program at UCSD, Arconada plans to extend Spark to other colleges and universities throughout the U.S. From there, he hopes to broaden the customer base to include cities where urban parking is a problem. Restaurants, malls, plazas and other establishments that require large parking areas could also integrate with Spark.
While many Ideators struggle with the technical side of their ideas, Arconada’s biggest challenge involved putting together the right team. Recently, several friends decided to join his new business venture, and since then Spark has made significant progress, including making contacts, applying for funding, developing a prototype and being a finalist in the Ideator December Challenge. Arconada credits Ideator with providing much-needed support along the way.