BMW’s parking prediction feature is the new valet

June 4, 2015, 5:21 PM UTC

The search for those coveted open on-street parking spots affects more than the frustrated person behind the wheel.

In densely populated areas, the hundreds of drivers who spend an average of 20 minutes looking for an open parking space also impact urban mobility. Traffic backs up, public transportation slows—even pedestrians are impeded by cars and buses blocking crosswalks. One analysis by Frost & Sullivan found drivers waste an average of 55 hours a year looking for parking, costing consumers and local economies nearly $600 million in wasted time and fuel.

Traffic data company Inrix and BMW unveiled a predictive parking feature at a connected car show in Detroit this week that can help drivers find those elusive on-street parking spots.

The research prototype, which was on display in a BMW i3 at the TU-Automotive Detroit conference, is able to predict parking availability by capturing data from some predictable sources— mobile payment companies, real-time parking information, and connected car-sharing services. Inrix went a step further, however, for an accurate prediction, looking to even more data sources.

As the company explains, vehicles might have passes that permit free parking or some drivers might park without paying. And in many cities, payment is only required during certain hours. The company also taps into the real-time data supplied by its massive network of 250 million vehicles and devices—information it has access to from navigation and traffic application providers who partner with Inrix.

The predictive parking feature, which will be branded as iPark in BMW cars, displays the information on the car’s dashboard. Just like the traffic feature in Google Maps, color-coded bars indicate the probability of open street parking, ranging from green (meaning lots of spaces) to red. Pricing, parking and permit restrictions, and policy rules will also be displayed. If on-street parking in unavailable, drivers will be directed to off-street parking locations.

A mock-up of the iPark predictive parking feature.


Inrix and BMW say they will further refine the research prototype for use in production vehicles. The service will initially be available in European metro areas Amsterdam, Cologne and Copenhagen as well as U.S. cities San Francisco and Seattle, as well as in Vancouver, Canada. It will expand to 23 cities by the end of the year, Inrix says.

The predictive parking feature is just one example of how major automakers, BMW included, are investing more time and money into mobility projects— features that make driving and parking more enjoyable and tap into a shift away from traditional car ownership. For example, BMW Group has been researching how to reduce the time spent looking for a vacant space since 2011. One of its first solutions, a premium parking service that allows drivers to reserve city parking spaces, has been available since 2012.

In 2013, the German car company Daimler (DDAIY), which makes Mercedes-Benz, launched a mobility services subsidiary, where it now houses its transit-finding unit moovel and car-sharing car2go brand. The moovel subsidiary had more than one million customers by the end of 2014, according to its annual report. Car2Go, which connects members with Smart cars, has more than 1 million registered members in 29 cities around the world, according to the company. In the past year, it has also purchased startups RideScout and the mytaxi cab-booking app Intelligent Apps.

Thanks to developments like Daimler’s and Google Maps, there are more possibilities than ever for consumers who need way-finding and transit apps on the go. BMW’s collaboration with Inrix fills in yet another piece of the urban transit puzzle—where to stash your vehicle when you’ve arrived at your destination, without another lap around the block.


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