Building Smart Parking System Using Blockchain: Interview With Rebecca Johnson of Datarella

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In Brief
  • The trial of a blockchain-based smart city infrastructure solution dubbed M-Zone was launched in Munich in November.

  • In the future, it will be possible to achieve cost reductions by optimizing parking lot usage.

  • The project aims to incentivize drivers to reduce the number of car trips they make into the city.

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In November, industrial blockchain solutions provider Datarella, in partnership with Cambridge-based Fetch.ai, Hammer AG, and RAAY RE, launched the trial of its blockchain-based smart city infrastructure solution dubbed M-Zone, in Munich. BeInCrypto caught up with Rebecca Johnson, a blockchain architect at the M-Zone project, to learn more about the initiative.

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The impetus behind the project is to minimize the city’s car-intensive commuting culture by incentivizing drivers to reduce the number of car trips they make into the city.

BeInCrypto: Rebecca, please tell us more about the project.

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Rebecca Johnson: M Zone is a collaboration between Datarella and Fetch.ai. Every time you drive a car to a new location, you have to spend a lot of time looking for parking spaces. And if you are in a hurry, you choose more expensive parking spaces. Also, a parking that is available in the area you’re in may not be accessible to you. This causes a lot of CO2 emissions, costs, wasted time, and efforts for the individual.

BeInCrypto: What is the purpose of the M Zone project?

Rebecca Johnson: M Zone aims to make parking management smarter and provide drivers with information about the best parking spots. It allows drivers to reduce time, money, and stress while looking for open slots.

The balance

As BeInCrypto previously reported, globally, 11 per cent of public parking spaces are fitted with smart technology, which enables parking operators to manage remotely and autonomously monitor parking availability in real-time.

Parking operators can access vehicle detection sensors, camera systems equipped with automated vehicle license plate recognition, smart parking meters, smart payment systems for public parking, digital signatures, as well as smartphone applications designed to assist with public parking navigation. 

BeInCrypto: What are the basic problems of parking lot management in Munich?

Rebecca Johnson: In Germany, businesses are obliged to have enough parking spaces for customers when you request permits for building a new commercial building. Traditionally, this is a 1:1 issue. And there is also the issue of multimodal transportation, a combination of different means of transport like a bus and your bike. Not every person needs to have a personal parking space. Thus, not every project needs to be able to build those huge parking garages, which often are not used. It creates the problem of finding a balance between demand and supply.

By balancing demand and supply, entrepreneurs may only need half of the parking spaces. We are in the testing phase of this project. But in the future, we can achieve cost reductions by optimizing parking lot usage.

BeInCrypto: What is the motivation for drivers to use this system?

Rebecca Johnson: The project creates the economic possibility of paying incentives to drivers in order to influence their behavior when parking. We could use that for long-term research purposes. In addition, there are public policy implications, an optimized traffic flow, and reduced CO2 emissions.

We spend a lot of time thinking about the user interface. When a user drives to a parking lot, the vehicle license plate is automatically registered using computer vision. And if you are a registered user — it’s an opt-in system that respects privacy — you can, for example, link your wallet to the license plate of the car.

The system recognizes that, and the AI in parking garages shares information about the usage of the parking spots. If you drive into a parking garage, where 20 per cent of the parking lots are occupied, you get rewards for choosing lesser used spots. We can share the economic outcome of this program with the system’s users. You’re being rewarded to park where it’s more beneficial for you and society.

The tracking and control potential

Rebecca emphasizes that participants’ privacy is paramount:

Rebecca Johnson: We are in the process of testing the system. And we are very aware of the privacy impact of installing cameras in parking garages. We can link the license plate to a wallet address that is, however, anonymized. The tracking and control potential is significantly reduced.

BeInCrypto: Are you planning to expand this smart city project to other cities and regions?

Rebecca Johnson: We are starting in Munich, and planning to go further from here. Fetch.ai investigates how to pay out incentives based on various parameters. There is a great potential for optimization in the future. It is a dynamic process that is adjusted depending on what is happening on site.

“Smart cities are about quality of life”

In the meantime, Munich is not the first city in Europe that has begun benefiting from blockchain and digital technologies. “Barcelona has done a lot to use technology for optimizing its public transportation, so people know when the train is coming and about delays. They just have very good analysis over their public transport,” Jonathan Reichental, CEO of business and technology education, advisory, and investment firm Human Future and the former chief information officer for the City of Palo Alto, told BeInCrypto, in September.

Reichental also admitted that it is fair to be concerned about privacy and surveillance issues, especially given that in recent years, there have been plenty of examples when governments took advantage of people’s personal data, without their consent. However, he stated that:

“Smart cities are not about surveillance. There is unfortunately a belief by some people and sadly it’s been validated in some places, that smart cities are about cameras monitoring people, about systems that intrude on people’s privacy, and so we’ve got to be really on top of this problem. And not only the potential problem, but also the perception that smart cities are about control and intrusion of privacy.”

“In reality, smart cities are about quality of life, they’re focused on not only technologies, but things like green spaces, and doing things that are good for the environment and making sure people have access to education and health and clean water.  99 per cent of smart city efforts are really focused on doing good things and helping people,” Reichental said.

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Alex completed her Bachelor's Degree in Oriental and Asian Studies at the Friedrich Wilhelms University of Bonn, then studied German as a foreign language at the Goethe Institute and completed her Master's Degree in Arabic studies at the Free University of Berlin. She has been working as a crypto journalist since 2017.

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