Trying to find a parking spot in packed cities can be frustrating. But it inspired one UMass Dartmouth PhD senior with an idea that won him an international contest. Faced with the difficulty of parking his car in packed lots at Logan Airport and the Providence Place mall, Amir Ehsani Zonouz, 31, has come up with an award-winning solution — a Smart Parking Lot Using Quadcopter Network.
“I thought, there should be a better way to solve this problem,” said Zonouz, an international student from Iran.
Zonouz worked on the project for about four months last year and recently won the first Siemens Mobility IDEA (Improving Design and Engineering for All) contest for his smart parking system. More than 385 participants submitted 180 ideas for the contest, according to Siemens.
The contest looks for innovative ideas to help solve five of the toughest challenges facing the traffic industry. Siemens will bring together its top research and development experts to hold an innovation workshop for Zonouz to produce a fully developed prototype of the parking drone technology, according to a news release from UMass Dartmouth.
In the final stage of his PhD, Zonouz is excited about the opportunity the contest brings.
“It’s a great stepping stone to working in a big company,” he said.
Zonouz’s proposal is three-pronged — using autonomous quadcopters (types of small-scale drones) to find free parking spots, determine the shortest path to it, and guiding drivers to the space either by following the drone, or through a mobile application, or directly through a vehicle’s communication system. The technology would use infrared and thermal cameras to work at night, the release stated.
Liudong Xing, an engineering professor at UMD, spoke highly of Zonouz.
“Amir is a very smart, self-motivated, and creative student with lots of new research ideas,” she said. “Winning this contest definitely has a very positive impact on his research and future career as it is initiating a series of challenging and interesting research problems for prototype implementation.”
Already available in stores, drones are the technology of the future and can have many practical applications like Zonouz’s project, said Ramprasad Balasubramanian, associate dean in the engineering school. He has a team of students working on a prototype drone that could help provide an aerial view of an accident or disaster without risking human lives, he said.
“I think using drones for transit and parking is an excellent idea,” he said. “Right now they are mostly available for hobbyists, like toy planes, but it will certainly be a major consumer” product in the future.