Siemens seeks to test spot-finder parking app in Berlin

Exasperated drivers searching for parking account for an estimated one-third of traffic in European inner cities, prompting Siemens AG to develop a radar system that tells drivers via smartphone where to look for a free spot.

Siemens, Europe’s largest engineering company, plans tests in Berlin starting in April of about 40 radar sensors mounted on street lamps. Each detector, about half a shoebox in size, scans 30 meters (100 yards) of road and uses a smartphone application to transmit information about potential spaces matching the car’s size.

“We’re in talks with several cities about their parking situation and about running pilot schemes,” Marcus Zwick, the head of the project, told reporters Wednesday in Munich. “We expect to launch a pilot in Dubai this year, after Berlin.”

Cities are under pressure to find ways to alleviate congestion and reduce air pollution. London authorities charge £11.50 ($17.80) a day for vehicles entering the inner-city area. Berlin only permits low-emission vehicles to enter its city centre.

The Siemens system, which will be ready for a broader rollout next year, is designed to help municipalities make better use of limited space and cut congestion as well as emissions, the Munich-based company said. The network can also alert parking patrols when meters run out or a driver has failed to pay a fee.

A 2013 study by Apcoa Parking Holdings GmbH, one of Europe’s leading lot managers, showed drivers needing an average 10 minutes in German city centres, and 15 minutes in Italy, and covering 4.5 kilometres (3 miles) to find a spot.

The German company’s project contrasts with technology that San Francisco introduced in 2011 based on sensors embedded in street pavement and smart parking meters. Radar mounted on street lamps or walls and using existing power supplies is easier to install and operate than underground equipment, which also needs to have batteries replaced periodically, Zwick said.

“Our radar system will be competitive with existing ground sensors,” said Zwick, declining to comment on installation costs.