'Pocketsourcing' turns smartphones into passive sensors to drive location apps

Researchers at State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo have built an app that helps drivers find open parking spots through the use of "pocketsourcing," which turns smartphones into passive sensors. The app was developed within Blue, a systems research group at the university that is focused on smartphone technologies.

According to the Blue website, because pocketsourcing is passive, it differs from traditional crowdsourcing applications that may require explicit user input. "By observing transitions between walking and driving, we can identify parking and leaving events. We feed them into a model that incorporates the uncertainty caused by so-called hidden drivers--those not using our application--in order to predict the available capacity of each monitored lot," explained Blue.

MIT Technology Review reported that PocketParker pulls parking lot data from OpenStreetMap and then estimates the number of parking spaces in each lot based on lot dimensions. Though not totally accurate, researchers said they can predict the number of spaces to within 6 percent of the actual number.

The app relies upon each smartphone's accelerometer to determine whether a user is searching for a parking spot. For example, a lot is probably full if a user cruises through it slowly and exits. A user who is walking to a parking lot and then suddenly speeds up and leaves the lot probably just got into his car and drove away.

PocketParker is available for download on the Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Play store, and Blue is encouraging users of parking lots near the University at Buffalo to begin using the app.

SUNY Buffalo computer science professor and paper coauthor Geoffrey Challen told MIT Technology Review that PocketParker probably will not pick up traction as a standalone app. But Challen said it could become a feature within a larger mapping app.

For more:
- see this Blue webpage
- see this MIT Technology Review article

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