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A wireless solution to the nightmare that is parking is getting a sizable investment from some well-known players. On Tuesday, startup Streetline, which uses wireless sensors and cell phones to find parking spots for drivers, announced it has raised $15 million from Fontinalis Partners, the investment fund from former Ford (s f) CEO Bill Ford, as well as RockPort Capital Partners and Sutter Hill Ventures.
Streetline embeds its wireless sensors on the streets around parking spots and in meters. Each sensor connects to a mesh network which feeds the parking availability data to a central office, and potential parkers can find open spots through updated street signs or on their cell phones. The company’s Parker app is available on iTunes (s aapl) .
The four-year-old company has deployed its technology in places like Los Angeles; San Francisco; New York City; Sausalito, Calif.; and the University of Maryland. Streetline CEO Zia Yusuf said its city and university customers commonly have between a few hundred to a few thousand parking spots connected via the system, and many customers are expanding early small deployments into larger networks. Streetline says the new funds, which are its Series B, will go toward expanding its network of sensors and services.
The company sells the service to the city or parking provider, and offers the driver access to the service and the mobile app for free. The network costs about $25 to $30 per parking space to install. Parking revenues are a major source of funds for cities, and parking providers can use the smart system to offer dynamic pricing to raise and lower prices depending on demand and time of day. For example, cities looking to reduce congestion in urban areas can raise parking rates at certain times to reduce traffic.
The app saves not only time, but also a lot of wasted gas, which is used up by drivers circling the block searching for a space. Streetline says 30 percent of traffic in cities comes from drivers looking for parking spaces, and the company cites a year-long study that says in a 15-block district in Los Angeles, drivers drove 950,000 extra miles, emitted 730 tons of carbon and burned 47,000 gallons of gas looking for parking.
Streetline is one of several companies using wireless and software to make transportation and parking smarter. A company called Skymeter is looking to deliver a similar smart parking service, but does so by installing a “black box” in the car that houses the network connection, computing device, GPS chip and software. Using a cell phone as a connection to the driver is a lower-cost way to do this, but Streetline’s sensors on the street can give more granular parking-specific data. Companies could also use the cell phone on its own without extra computing in the car or parking space, and a company called Virtual Vehicle Company is building software to offer car data services to companies.