With more than 30 years in the intelligent transportation market, Norway-based Q-Free has spent much of its existence developing ways to reduce traffic flows. Q-Free’s project manager, Brage Blekken, said the company’s mission is even branded into the company name, Q-Free, which means remove the queues to improve vehicle traffic flow.
The company got its start in transportation management in the 1980s by building electronic toll collection systems in Norway. Today, Q-Free transportation systems can be found on every continent, providing systems for electronic tolling, vehicle counters and classifiers, traffic control and surveillance technologies, and parking management. Q-Free has been selling indoor sensor-based parking systems that detect, track and monitor parked cars for the past five years. The devices hang over parking spaces so drivers can see which spots are occupied and which are available.
IoT and parking
Q-Free determined people need just as much help finding outdoor parking spots based on the amount of time people spend driving around urban areas looking for a space. According to an INRIX study, 20% of traffic in urban areas can typically be attributed to people searching for parking.
Most of the existing outdoor parking sensors currently on the market have accuracy limitations, which can obviously negatively impact a person’s parking experience. Previous technologies also struggled with wireless capabilities and interference from cellular networks commonly associated with urban environments.
Overcoming wireless challenges
To circumvent some of these challenges, Q-Free incorporated radar and magnetic field sensing technology into its new parking product, the ParQSense Smart Parking Sensor, which can sense with 99% accuracy whether a vehicle is present in a parking space, thus providing highly accurate parking data. The offering is being commercially launched this month after an extensive pilot in the EU and North America earlier this year.
The Q-Free Smart Sensor technology monitors parking spots better than existing products on the market by transmitting data over long distances using narrowband communications in a sub-GHz frequency range. Space availability sensor data is transmitted to centralized base stations using long-range communication. The Q-Free HUB, the cloud IoT back-end service, collects and sends information to a variety of outputs, such as variable message signs located near the parking sites as well as websites or mobile phone applications. The highly accurate parking data can also be used to analyze traffic trends and make future predictions to improve overall traffic. The next ParQSense product release of a full IoT Smart Sensor provides additional flexibility as it will give sensors the ability to communicate directly over existing 4G telecom networks. Blekken said the system’s ability to use existing communication infrastructure within the local area will be a big step in the right direction towards realizing next-generation smart city connectivity.
During the product development phase, Q-Free recognized low-power wireless connectivity would be crucial in ensuring the strength of the system. Offering a combination of high-accuracy components with extreme low power consumption was the primary product design challenge. The ParQSense Smart Sensor is expected to live for a minimum of 10 years. Therefore, Q-Free could not afford to use more than a few microamperes on average while maintaining the high-performance data link and intensive signal processing required for radar circuits. With these challenges in mind, Q-Free selected Silicon Labs’ low-power wireless microcontroller technology for the system.
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