Lyon Hockey

Parking search goes high tech

Vishnu Mano is only 16 years old but has already deployed his six years of programming experience to create a sensational application.

A student at City High/Middle School in Grand Rapids, Mano is the founder and developer of Spotter, an app he created that helps drivers find the nearest free parking spot when paired with hardware which he also designed and tested.

Mano won $5,000 at Start Garden’s February 22 5×5 Night, beating fellow founding finalists Sandy Jonick, U-Plant Landscape Designs, which features digital landscape designs that homeowners can plant themselves; Lisa McAree, NeedHours Network, an online network that connects students with employers who need affordable home health care and volunteer services; Hanna Varner, Cohnect, an app that matches like-minded travelers to promote cross-cultural understanding; and Matt Baker, Bambo, a social media and music streaming platform.

A go-getter who started coding in fourth grade, Mano said he “got really serious about it in fifth grade.” He was inspired to pursue his passion by an elementary school teacher, Matthew Meyer, at Knapp Forest Elementary.

“(He) encouraged all of his students to start learning to code from an early age,” Mano said. “…He always told me that coding was going to be like reading and writing in the future. When you’re in the job market, it will become a required skill, and the sooner you can learn it, the better off you’ll be.

“After fifth grade, I continued to work on some of the lessons he taught me and started branching out into other courses on YouTube and Coursera.”

Spotter started as a class project last year when Mano was in second grade.

“We had to do a project called the personal project – it’s something all second-year students at City have to do,” he said. “It’s a school-year project that students have to complete and report on, and the rules are very generic. Our school just wants us to find some kind of problem in our community and try to solve it or do something that would help us grow as people or learn new skills.

As he brainstormed ideas, Mano recalled a time when he was in elementary school. He and his family missed the opening puck of a Grand Rapids Griffins hockey game because they couldn’t immediately find a parking spot near the Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids.

“I was quite upset and hoped there was some sort of solution, but with my short attention span in elementary school, I quickly forgot about the problem,” he said. “Then in the second year, as I was brainstorming ideas, this problem came up. I didn’t initially know what a solution would look like, but I knew it wouldn’t be too hard to try and solve. .

Mano’s first rough prototype was a bulky box-like sensor attached to his iPhone that cost $50 and wasn’t very practical.

“When I started this project, I had a lot of software experience, but no hardware experience. I didn’t know what a microcontroller was or how to manipulate a sensor using code. I was programming applications and pure software websites at that time,” he said. “When I started this project, one of my main goals for developing my own skills was to learn how these ultrasonic sensors and these hardware components are working.”

YouTube became its main teacher, and testing was its refiner’s fire – literally.

“We had a few prototypes that caught fire,” Mano said with a laugh. “I definitely learned my lesson there.”

After completing his class project, Mano didn’t seem to shake Spotter’s idea, and he quickly contacted the City of Grand Rapids Mobile GR parking authority to see if the department would let him pitch his idea.

Justin Kimura, Deputy Director of Mobile GR, eagerly agreed.

“I was just curious to see the feasibility of implementing a similar solution in Grand Rapids, and was just waiting for feedback or more ideas to come out of it, but… Mr. Justin Kimura gave me a internship with the city of Grand Rapids that summer to continue working on my project,” Mano said.

During the internship, Mano and the city devised a way to attach more streamlined ultrasonic sensors containing microcontrollers to a dozen parking spots in the Ottawa Fulton ramp across from Van Andel. The sensors check in real time if a parking space is free or occupied, then transmit this data via a microcontroller to the parking lot’s Wi-Fi, which then transmits the information to the application from the cloud.

After testing these prototypes, he realized that 3D printing the sensors could reduce the cost of each unit to around $2, making them much more affordable for parking companies and city governments to install.

But because a parking garage would need to place a sensor in every space – a big project – Mano is now developing Spotter 2.0, which uses cameras that monitor 12-15 parking spaces at a time to relay the same data to the app. using machine learning. .

“The most important thing with the cameras is that aside from the parking ramps themselves, we can also put them up in on-street parking lots or even open land, just because you don’t have need infrastructure, you don’t need real walls to install a camera; all you would need is a lamp post or a tall building nearby to install your camera,” Mano said.

Thanks to the grant he won from Start Garden, Mano is now working with Ellis Parking and Mobile GR to test both solutions at the Midtown ramp at 130 Lyon St. NW and the Ottawa Fulton ramp at 50 Ottawa Ave. NW.

He also uses some of the funding to hire a lawyer and consultant to help him turn Spotter into a business.

“I’m just a high school kid who loves playing with technology, and I don’t know anything about running a real business,” he said. “A lot of things, like copyrights, trademarks and intellectual property, I still need to learn before I start doing this.

“I’ve been 100% committed to Spotter for a while now…but to make it the business I hope to make it, there’s still a long way to go from an understanding perspective.”

Mano said that once he has a better understanding of the parking industry, he hopes to expand Spotter into other areas, such as harnessing the sharing economy to allow owners to offer their parking spaces.

More information about Spotting at spotterpark.wordpress.com.