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Research Blog: Using Machine Learning to predict parking difficulty

When Solomon said there was a time and a place for everything he had not encountered the problem of parking his automobile.Bob Edwards, Broadcast Journalist

Much of driving is spent either stuck in traffic or looking for parking. With products like Google Maps and Waze, it is our long-standing goal to help people navigate the roads easily and efficiently. But until now, there wasn’t a tool to address the all-too-common parking woes.

Last week, we launched a new feature for Google Maps for Android across 25 US cities that offers predictions about parking difficulty close to your destination so you can plan accordingly. Providing this feature required addressing some significant challenges:

  • Parking availability is highly variable, based on factors like the time, day of week, weather, special events, holidays, and so on. Compounding the problem, there is almost no real time information about free parking spots.
  • Even in areas with internet-connected parking meters providing information on availability, this data doesn’t account for those who park illegally, park with a permit, or depart early from still-paid meters.
  • Roads form a mostly-planar graph, but parking structures may be more complex, with traffic flows across many levels, possibly with different layouts.
  • Both the supply and the demand for parking are in constant flux, so even the best system is at risk of being outdated as soon as it’s built.

To face these challenges, we used a unique combination of crowdsourcing and machine learning (ML) to build a system that can provide you with parking difficulty information for your destination, and even help you decide what mode of travel to take — in a pre-launch experiment, we saw a significant increase in clicks on the transit travel mode button, indicating that users with additional knowledge of parking difficulty were more likely to consider public transit rather than driving.

Three technical pieces were required to build the algorithms behind the parking difficulty feature: good ground truth data from crowdsourcing, an appropriate ML model and a robust set of features to train the model on.

Source: Research Blog: Using Machine Learning to predict parking difficulty

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