Footpath Labs, a top-secret urban innovation division run under Google’s parent company Alphabet, wants to improve city life for city-dwellers by reinventing public parking and transportation.
Its first testing grounds — Columbus, Ohio — may host subsidized ride-sharing, a service that finds free parking spots, and an artificial intelligence platform that will help meter maids fine more people, all in the Buckeye State capital.
Earlier in 2016, Footpath Labs announced plans to buy up land in major US cities and transform the parcels into ultra-high tech municipalities. In conjunction with the US Department of Transportation, it launched the Smart City Challenge to identify a launchpad for its innovations. Cities from Kirkland, Washington, to Austin, Texas, vied for the grand prize: a $50 million infrastructure overhaul.
Columbus took the prize.
The Guardian revealed on Monday never-before-seen documents and proposals from the Smart City Challenge. Turns out, Footpath Labs has elaborate plans for Columbus, including making vehicle navigation less of a hassle.
Its smart traffic platform, Flow, will pool information and fare cost from almost every major form of transportation. When a user types a destination into Google Maps, the app will suggest a journey that takes duration and price into account.
Low-income transit users might be able to put their discounted or free bus passes toward ride-sharing services, like Uber and Lyft, through Footpath’s partnership with the city.
Cars that operate under Footpath Labs’ proposed ride-sharing program will be equipped with cameras that count all public parking spots and read parking signs. The platform will combine that information with data from Google Maps and live parking meters to steer drivers toward the nearest available parking spots.
Private parking garages will also be able to add their spaces to Flow’s database and turn a profit on spaces usually reserved for shoppers and workers. Garages may charge more during surges in demand. Footpath claims this system could bring the city $2,000 per participating parking space annually.
Helping the city reap revenue from its transportation infrastructure appears to be a core priority for Footpath, which is also working on a platform that calculates where cops can give out the most parking tickets. Columbus could rake in another $4 million in fines every year.
Columbus likely charmed judges with its already sophisticated (and surprising) efforts to become a hub in autonomous transportation innovation. The city monitors traffic conditions continuously all throughout the state using sensors and cameras, and has invested some $76 million on a smart traffic system that will enable driverless cars to navigate faster and safer, Tech Insider reported back in April.
“We want to be the epicentre,” Rory McGuiness, deputy director the department of development for Columbus, told Tech Insider’s Danielle Muoio. “We want to be synonymous for intelligent transportation systems in same way that Silicon Valley is for tech.”
As its Smart City grand prize, the city will receive $50 million from the US Department of Transportation and Paul Allen’s Vulcan that can be spent however it wants, making it possible to “become the country’s first city to fully integrate innovative technologies — self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors — into their transportation network.”
Columbus and Footpath might be swapping data as soon as August, with dynamic parking prices implemented by January 2017, The Guardian reports.
One big caveat: the proposals laid out by Footpath Labs have yet to be approved by the city. To achieve all its goals, Columbus will have to infuse some of its own funds into revamping the transportation infrastructure.
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