You're in a dense urban neighborhood, and you're looking for parking. You could circle for half an hour, swearing at the guy who stole the space you totally saw first, or you could rely on technology developed to explore Venus to nab a spot.
While parking might not sound like the concern of space agencies, France is literally using space-age technology to solve a mundane Earth-bound problem. The tech was originally developed to help balloons communicate with each other, as they floated through the clouds of Venus. The host balloons would have sensors that detect changes in the electromagnetic environment around them and send data to other balloons to help map the atmosphere.
The project was grounded due to budget cuts, though, so the tech was recycled into the pavement of France's fourth largest city, Toulouse, where the sensors are connected to one another under the pavement via coaxial cables.
The parking system is the work of a local start-up called Lyberta and the Centre Nationale d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), France's counterpart to NASA, which is also based in Toulouse. There are about 3,000 of the sensors, spaced about 9 inches apart beneath the pavement, and each can detect a parking spot within a little fewer than 1,000 feet. Together, they can pinpoint areas that have available parking. The data is then shared in real time via a free smartphone app that displays a green icon to indicate a free parking spot.
The overall goal of the program is to help reduce urban air pollution, much of which is blamed on drivers circling for parking (Patrick Givanovitch of Lyberta says 60 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in Toulouse comes from cars whose drivers are searching for parking and waiting behind delivery trucks). The tech could also be used to more quickly pinpoint cars that are parked illegally, which could raise revenue for the city and open more spots for other drivers.
I plan on sending a copy of this post to the leaders of my city, Seattle, which has been going through similar parking woes lately. More parking in the city center means more revenue to local businesses, and that means more jobs in a state facing almost 10 percent unemployment.
There are, of course, other parking apps that help drivers find parking. But this one has space technology, and space technology is awesome, isn't it?