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Technology Untangled: Need parking or eBook? Your phone can help

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technology-bourWith iPhones and Android smartphones, there are plenty of apps to help you navigate to where you want to go – except for that last crucial distance to an open parking spot. One of our topics in this column is a new technology that helps you find a parking spot with your smartphone. I’ll also describe how to download free eBooks.

Last month, the city of Indianapolis announced that it was initiating a new parking service in several areas around town. The free app, Parker, by Streetline.com, can help you find open parking spots on the street. In some cities, it can also help you find and reserve available parking in garages and surface lots. The technology for Streetline’s service is still in the relatively early development stage, but I see this as an application with potential to expand and grow into widespread use. Right now, there are only a handful of cities that are set up for the Parker app – Boston, Washington, and Los Angeles, to name a few. Indianapolis’ recent first step with this system was to add 600 sensors in three areas: near Monument Circle downtown, around Massachusetts Avenue, and in the Broad Ripple area.

The sensors are mounted on the surface of the road at each parking space and they recognize the magnetic signature of a car if one is parked near it. They transmit that information to nearby receivers that ultimately feed that availability information back to your phone in the form of a map overlay. Information also includes the cost of parking and any time restrictions for the spots. The system does not send you to a specific parking spot, but rather breaks down the data to depict the number of available spots on any given nearby stretch of road. The best chance of finding a spot is in areas where the software reports “more than four spots” open. If it reports “less than two spots” then it is unlikely that you will find those spots still open once you come around the block.

The sensors look a bit like surface-mounted street reflectors and are fixed in place with an industrial adhesive. Each sensor contains two AA batteries. I am a bit curious about how well these units will stand up to the weather and how often the batteries will need replaced. If they do work well, guided parking systems like this should become more prevalent. This parking technology is expanding to more cities nationwide, and while it does cost the city money to install, the city benefits by gathering better data about their parking spots. Indianapolis, through its ParkIndy LLC partnership, plans to install many more sensors throughout the city this year.

On a separate subject, I have been intrigued by the continued growth of eReaders and electronic books. I have yet to decide on a specific tablet or eReader for myself, but I have noticed one obvious feature with all of them – they are designed to try to sell you eBooks and make it easy for you to buy them. Free books are a bit harder to come by. The free offerings are usually older classics. To find newer books, I started with my local library.

It turns out that a growing number of books are available in digital formats through many Indiana libraries, thanks to a project called the eIndiana Digital Consortium. Anyone with a library card can log in to their local library’s website and borrow books by downloading them electronically. One nice feature with the library books is that they are available in a format that doesn’t require use of a dedicated eReader; any computer will do. That format is the Adobe Digital Editions EPUB eBook. Adobe’s free reader software must be installed and registered before you can download books.

This format involves some type of digital rights management encoding. This means that you cannot make multiple copies of a book and share it with everyone. However, you can transfer and share your borrowed books simultaneously on several of your own devices and computers by registering those devices under your Adobe Digital Editions software account. The encoding also automatically expires your books at the end of their lending period, so you won’t need to remember to return them. For details on how to browse, check out, and download books from the library, see http://www.overdrive.com/Solutions/Libraries/guidedtour/.

Once your books are downloaded to your computer, it is a fairly simply matter to transfer them to many mobile devices, including your smartphone via USB cable. I did try to read a few chapters using my phone and found it a bit tedious on such a small screen. As much as I like the technical “wow” factor of reading a novel on an electronic device, I still think a standard paperback book is the better choice for wet environments like the beach, pool or bathtub.•

Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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