Coming from the bay area, parking is always a big headache. It had actually gotten so bad in Berkeley that you have to win a Nobel Prize for a parking spot. Unfortunately, most ordinary joes like us don’t have a chance in these big brain awards, but we believe parking a car should be fast, easy, and cheap hoping that we can easily park anywhere we want, anytime we want, perhaps now. The idea stemmed from a story that began back in high school when one of our members had to help his father pay for parking tickets. Being a delivery driver, parking tickets were always something troubling for their family. These road-side parking spots in San Francisco are like needles in a haystack. Spending 30 minutes cruising around the block is a norm. Considering that 70% of traffic jams are caused by cruising for parking, We knew there had to be a better solution for drivers, and the Earth.
What it does
Park Now is a mobile application that has multiple easy to use features that are tailored to ease your parking spot finding dilemma. The app allows you to see empty road-side parking spots left by other users on the map and automatically searches the closest one in your vicinity. All you have to do is to tap on 2 buttons, one to search for the closest spot, the other to show others that you occupy the spot. In addition, once you marked your location when parked, if you choose to leave your contact, and say there are some unexpected situations that happened to your car such as a break in, other users of the app have the ability to quickly notify you about the situation. Since your parked location is marked you also never have to worry about not being able to find your car! Once you decide to leave, just tap on the same button as you tapped for occupying the spot, and your old spot will be up for grabs. To top it all off, we calculate the amount of carbon you have prevented from emitting and the amount of time you have saved to show that you are doing a good thing for both yourself and the world.
How we built it*
We built our mobile app using Flutter and Dart. We set up a Google Firestore NoSQL database and Google Maps API to contain and display locations of the markers, whether parked or vacant, and contact information. We utilized a hashing function that turns Latitude and Longitude into a Base32 hash, to calculate whether your current location is in the same parking spot as the previous user. Lastly, We calculated how much CO2 and time saved by comparing to the average parking time in that area.
Challenges we ran into
There are many challenges we went through, both on the technical side and non technical side. Because of our relatively small team and inexperience in these sort of things, we went on many winded paths searching for good ideas. For about half of the hackathon we are just chucking ideas back and forth, trying out various different ideas and basically spreading ourselves too thin. The matter is even worse considering we only had 2 people. We had our fair share of arguing and frustration, but we fortunately were able to finalized on an idea that we think is very relatable--Park now.
On the technical side, we realized developing an app is not as easy as it sounds. We ran into many big trouble mixes and matching random code segments from medium, stack-overflow and official tutorials. The posts always sounded so great but when we try to run the code copy pasted, it is almost guaranteed to fail, and we wasted a lot of time debugging code we don’t even fully understand. In addition, the asynchronous aspect of mobile programming and dealing with streams of data was a really big headache for us as we are very new to these concepts and we feel like we have to really think outside the box. Fortunately, in the end, we are able to create something that was actually to our original plan and expectation, and we are very proud of that achievement.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We created our own functional app from scratch--conceiving the idea to a finished product--in 36 hours!
What we learned
The largest take away from this experience is that we realized the importance of being organized and project management. We believe we went on a bit of a rocky road in the beginning investing time and energy in many ideas that are unfruitful. We realize that perhaps researching a bit more and talking things out a bit more would have smoothen our ride a lot more.
We also learned that never be too shy to ask for help, we would to really thank the mentors and sponsors for your very inspirational talks and answering our problem so efficiently, you really helped us a lot in determining what we wanted to do in such a short amount of time, making this hackathon such a unique experience!
What's next for Park Now
We had to simplify some of our features in order to complete Park Now in time. In the future, we’d like to improve upon those features and eventually publish on all mobile platforms for people to use. Moreover, we want this to become a standard feature on self-driving cars for them to have the ability to find road-side parking themselves.