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Innovative Group of BYU Students Roll Out New AI Tech to Solve Parking Problems

Spot Parking team wins 2024 BYU Student Innovator of the Year comp

View of a parking lot of cars with vehicles individually tagged by color-coded boxes.

Finally finding a parking spot after a desperate 15-minute search, only to realize it’s already occupied by a hidden tiny car, can be devastating. Students are particularly aware of the perils of parking — roughly 51% of parking violations on college campuses go undetected, often making it tricky for those with parking passes to find spots they paid for.

A group of enterprising BYU students aim to significantly — if not entirely — reduce parking violations in paid parking lots, college and otherwise. And their idea, an AI detection and tracking system called Spot Parking (more on that in a minute), just got a major endorsement and $12,000 in cash by winning the 2024 BYU Student Innovator of the Year (SIOY) competition.

“We knew Spot Parking had incredible potential, so we started searching everywhere for funding to help us get our idea off the ground,” said Ryan Hagerty, a BYU pre-business student and Spot Parking team member. “SIOY has been an incredible experience to gain recognition and funding. Now we feel like we can really get started with parking enforcement.”

Spot Parking uses cameras and AI to detect vehicles immediately upon entering a parking lot, and then assigns vehicles a unique tracking identifier associated with their license plates. Likewise, every parking stall in the system is categorized as occupied or unoccupied, and the data is passed on to parking police via the Spot Parking app.

The BYU Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering hosts the Student Innovator of the Year annually in partnership with the BYU Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology. The competition has kickstarted now-successful companies Owlet, Khione, Myostorm and more across its 13-year history. Student teams compete for a piece of the total $50,000 in prize money.

The 2024 winners include:

FIRST PLACE ($12,000): SPOT PARKING: Revolutionizing the parking enforcement industry using machine learning and security cameras

SECOND PLACE ($10,000): SALT BLOCK INOCULUM: A solution to help farmers who struggle with salinity

THIRD PLACE ($8,000): STRATUS: Automated front desk tasks for healthcare using Artificial Intelligence

CROWD FAVORITE ($2,000): MELBAS CANCER THERAPEUTICS: A biotechnical solution that can successfully target and kill lung cancer cells

Instead of continuously driving around to cite illegally parked cars, parking enforcement personnel can use Spot Parking’s technology to see exactly how many stalls house illegally parked cars, where they are located and how long they have been there. The team says their solution improves on two existing solutions: vehicle-mounted license plate recognition cameras that are affordable but labor intensive, and individual parking sensors (above parking spots) that are low maintenance but very expensive.

“As we’re able to more consistently enforce parking policies, the people who park illegally will do so less often, opening up an estimated 27% more spaces on college campuses for people who actually paid for passes,” Hagerty said.

The Spot Parking student team, which also includes students Cooper Young and Dean Smith, predicts that its product will reduce the costs of parking enforcement by 65%, a considerable number given that the average university spends upwards of $400,000 on parking enforcement each year. Some, like the University of Arkansas, pay more than $2 million annually, according to the students’ research.

But Young said Spot Parking’s tech isn’t just for universities: “Anywhere that uses paid parking — airports, event venues, urban center — can use this system to improve their parking situation,” he said.

Spot Parking’s app integration caught the attention of Eric Ellis, one of five SIOY judges and the president and CEO of FMI Aerostructures.

“There are a lot of people besides college students who would pay money to know where they could park at busy event venues or airports,” said Ellis, an alum of BYU’s mechanical engineering program. “I think you guys still have another value stream potential in the app.”

The three students, who started brainstorming four years ago prior to each serving a mission, said prospective businesses will eventually be able to use Spot Parking technology by paying a one-time installation fee followed by a yearly subscription, scaled to the size of the desired parking enforcement area. Currently Spot Parking has been working with BYU’s parking office to beta test the tech.

They are also working to improve their AI tracking accuracy, which is already at 95–97%, much higher than current parking enforcement methods. Other future Spot Parking app features will include live, updating information that will show students and other public currently available parking stalls.

“There was a lot of buzz about Spot Parking among the judges of the showcase phase of SIOY, but the final competition is a different format, and they have to impress a different set of judges,” said Jim Trent, assistant dean of the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering. “Not only did they give a very polished and confident presentation, but they scored high with the judges in all three main criteria: engineering, innovation and impact.”

A crowd is gathered to watch the Student Innovator of the Year competition.
An overflow crowd gathered to watch the 2024 Student Innovator of the Year competition this month.
Photo by Brooklynn Jarvis Kelson/BYU Photo.


Written by Shelby Clark