Sensor networks in the big city: How sensing parking can control congestion, fund cities, and lower blood pressure


Date Thursday August 6th 2009
Time 4:00-5:00pm
Venue George E. Pake Auditorium, PARC

PARC Forum

Cities are complex webs of human activity and infrastructure, but they don’t run themselves – information is the key, and it’s traditionally been lacking. By embedding ultra-low power networked sensors into the environment, it’s possible to understand what’s going on out there.

Parking is a great example of an little-managed resource that has an outsized effect on people’s lives, the economy, and the environment, and it was the first of several applications that Streetline focuses on. I’ll explain how we can use parking as a mechanism for congestion management, help cities manage some of their most valuable real estate and how parking sensors can help find you a parking space.¬†

In the process of doing this, we’ve deployed some of the largest and longest-lived sensor networks to date – we’ve had nearly 2000 sensors covering more than a square mile of Los Angeles, and we expect to deploy at least 10,000 more this year to multiple cities. Our devices last 5-10 years on a pair of AA batteries, and need to stand up to all kinds of abuse. And sensing a 3000-pound hunk of metal turns out to be harder than expected: the biggest sensing challenges are often the result of hard-to-anticipate human behavior.

I’ll talk about some of the technical and practical challenges of this work, and give my perspective on how research “common knowledge” has held up in the real world.


Jim has been involved in Sensor Networks since the inception of the field, first as a researcher, now as VP of Engineering for Streetline, developing and deploying some of the world's largest sensor networks into some of the world's largest cities. Streetline is a 30-person San Francisco-based company which builds and operates large sensor networks for monitoring urban infrastructure, starting with parking.

In 10 years as a researcher and Area Manager at PARC, he worked on sensor networks ranging from low-powered collaborative environment sensors; acoustic and video sensors for human and vehicle tracking and in sensor network middleware; ad-hoc vehicle sensor networks; and an airjet paper mover. Prior to PARC, he worked on sensing and control of space launch vehicles, spacecraft, and antiballistic missiles.

Jim holds a B.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering (Space Avionics) from MIT and an M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. He holds 6 patents (with 22 pending) and is the author of numerous technical publications.

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