Spain to Trial Smart Sensors on Disabled Parking Spaces

14-12-2022 | By Robin Mitchell

To tackle the misuse of disabled parking spaces, the city of San Sebastian in Spain will trial new parking sensors that will not only detect illegal parking but also help those with disabilities find their nearest parking spot. What challenges do drivers face with parking, what will the city trial be, and how will this trial demonstrate the power of smart cities?

What challenges do drivers face with parking?

While the invention of the automobile brought about a revolution in logistics and transportation, the mass production of vehicles has introduced numerous challenges that continue to this day. One such challenge is the large number of vehicle emissions, which is particularly dangerous for built-up areas with little airflow and high population densities. Such air pollution can result in increased asthma rates, respiratory diseases, and cancer rates. 

Another challenge is that the ability to travel great distances has enabled residences to be located far away from towns and cities. Even though this may be beneficial in that it helps to lower population densities, it comes with the added challenge that living away from cities requires access to a vehicle, and those vehicles require parking spaces. Considering that cities and towns are typically hundreds of years old, it is not easy to demolish buildings for the sole purpose of creating parking spaces.

So, with parking spaces limited, another challenge is introduced; parking for those with disabilities. Many countries around the world have recognised the need for some disabilities to have larger parking spaces to allow for ramps and other equipment, as well as reduce the distance to places of interest, and as such, have introduced legislation that requires disabled parking spaces. 

But while the vast majority of law-abiding citizens recognise the need for such spots, some lack sympathy or laziness and thus use disabled parking zones. By using these spaces, it introduces very serious risks for those who cannot use regular spaces, and this could include the inability to shop, get access to key resources, and make life in general extremely difficult. For example, some with disabilities may have carers to help with the weekly shopping, but these sessions are usually booked and cannot be moved, meaning that a missed shopping trip could make getting access to groceries very difficult. 

Disabled spots can be protected to some degree with traffic wardens who check vehicles for authorised disabled badges, but this can be expensive as well as inconsistent. 

Spanish city to trial smart parking sensors

In recognition of the challenges faced by disabled parking spots, the Spanish city of San Sebastian will launch a trial of smart sensors that will not only aid those who need the spots but also identify illegal parkers. The new initiative will install 350 U-Spot M2M sensors that detect the presence of a vehicle by changes in the Earth’s magnetic field (large metal objects above the sensor cause a localised change in magnetic field strength).

These sensors take readings once every three seconds and utilise LTE bands 5,8 and 20 (NB-IoT) which enables long-range communication while eliminating the need for localised networks. Furthermore, the devices are entirely battery-powered and have an operating lifetime of 10 years (which appears to be from a single battery, but this isn’t clearly specified). 

To help find a spot, those needing to use the space legitimately can use an app that will direct them to the nearest spot. By using the app, the space is then registered to that vehicle, so the detection of a parked vehicle in that spot will not alert authorities. But if an unauthorised car pulls into the spot, a notification is immediately sent to authorities, who can then send officers out to identify the vehicle and issue a fine. 

How will this trial demonstrate the power of smart cities?

While the trial is yet to be launched, it is highly likely that it will not only prove to be efficient but potentially profitable via the collection of fines. At the same time, drivers will eventually learn not to drive into such spots, and this will subsequently lead to disabled spots being left free for those who need them.

This use of smart sensors in parking spaces is an excellent example of how smart cities can help improve city logistics and the quality of life for residents. But while smart cities will provide numerous advantages, there are many challenges that must be first solved before sensors can be deployed in mass. For example, network technologies that can support tens of thousands of devices still need to be established, and while networks such as 5G may be able to support this, they are not designed to do so on a fundamental level (5G is geared towards cellular services).

At the same time, the deployment of thousands of sensors across cities also introduces cybersecurity concerns, especially if those devices have the ability to affect critical infrastructures such as street lights, traffic lights, and power. A city that is entirely dependent on networks can quickly be shut down via DDoS attacks, and this could be a valuable method of attack by foreign nations looking to do harm. 

Overall, smart cities present engineers with exciting possibilities, and the trial by the city of San Sebastian will only demonstrate the advantages presented by smart sensors.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.