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Solving the curb conundrum: three future trends
Kirk Mitchell

Kirk Mitchell

Overlooked, under-utilized and increasingly valuable, the curb needs a 21st century makeover to live up to the needs of today's society.

The curb. It's where most of our journeys start and finish. Where our deliveries are made. The place we meet a ride share or park our cars. The curb space has never been more in demand, yet as city living increases in popularity and technology disruption changes how we live and move around the city, it hasn't evolved to meet these needs.

Take e-commerce delivery, for instance. We've all experienced the delivery van double parked because the driver can't find a space. Or the Uber driver circling the block because they can't locate you outside the concert venue. More often than not, the destination on the map and the actual point of delivery aren't the same.  The knock-on effect is congestion on the street, confusion at the curb and frustration for the consumer.

While the infrastructure and logistics required for on-demand delivery has become slick to the point that we now benefit from same-day deliveries, it's that last mile, or those last few meters, that are the stumbling block for most people.

How can our smart cities of the future leverage the power of location technology to map the curb space better?

In my navigation career, I've traveled and lived in cities all over the world, and it's given me a global perspective on the problem.

Everyone's definition of the curb is different, but the frustrations felt are the same. From Athens to Abuja, Cairo to Cardiff, competition for this valuable space is big business.

As a commuter cyclist, too, I've witnessed at street level the delivery trucks jostling for space with food service riders, and motorists competing with on-demand transport services. Safety is a big issue for these drivers who're under tremendous pressure to make deliveries on time, while figuring out where they're going and keeping their eyes on the road.

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Safety is a big issue for these drivers who're under tremendous pressure to make deliveries on time, while figuring out where they're going and keeping their eyes on the road.

And then when they arrive at the curb, they need to find somewhere to legally park, and navigate the rest of the way by other means, usually on foot. It's particularly important also to understand the mode of transport because people can access things differently. If someone's on a bike they can get places a car can't. If the delivery driver parks up, how are they going to navigate to the final part of their destination?

And this is where the problems often begins, because the entry point and the destination point are often not the same thing. The entrance might be at the side or round the back as opposed to the map display point of that building.

In India, for instance, when we talk about the curb there, even to this day there's not a very well-defined address structure. Most navigation or delivery is based on landmarks. The house with the red door 100 yards past the post office, for example. But that's a really intuitive way to navigate because it provides a level of information that “10 High Street” doesn't. Globally, we're starting to see a trend for people to navigate by place name rather than street address. In the future, the notion of street addresses may even be redundant. AI and ML engines will build a 'location graph' based upon your driving behavior and through this and integration into your calendar, it will be able to predict and preload destinations even before your start your journey.

Curb trends for 2020

1. Accurate positioning

In dense urban environments with tall buildings, GPS won't work if it doesn't have a clear line of sight with a satellite, so last mile accuracy is compromised. With HERE's High Definition positioning technology, mobile devices now have greater accuracy allowing people to get a more precise placement on the map. This creates destination definition, removes any vagueness and makes it easier for people to find the exact location first time.

We're also starting to build a much better picture of buildings and local information to give a more holistic view of the curb and improve navigation at a macro level. For a few years now we've even been creating industrial maps that show microscopic levels of curb detail, such as where there's street furniture, bike collection points and resident's parking.

2. Trusted ETAs and Real-time monitoring

What we're talking about is navigation that truly takes you to the point of destination. For businesses that depend on timely deliveries, solving it through more accurate location planning and real-time ETAs, by even a single percentage point, can be hugely beneficial to your bottom line and of real value to your customers.

If we look at the HERE suite of real-time products, we can monitor things like volume of traffic, hazard warnings, icy roads and so on, and this information allows maps to create dynamic routes that avoid congestion. This can be combined with our lane level routing to provide a truly trusted ETA. But taking this one step further, real-time data can be used to monitor what's happening live at the curb, so we could create dynamic zones that could be used for commuting in the morning, then switching to deliveries in the middle of the day, before becoming taxi ranks in the evening.

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The curb needs to bend and flow with the pulse of the city – and the only way to take its pulse is to know what's happening.

When more and more cars become connected, they will be able to collect and share information, such as the detection of an available car space using the side facing ultrasonic sensors, so if you're a delivery driver you'll see in real-time that there's a free space to park.

3. Data collaboration

All this data has to be linked together to create insights that better connect people to places. Many agencies, businesses and local authorities collect data, but it's kept in silos. First we need to collaborate with each other to merge these multiple data sets to get a rich, real-time view of what's happening at the curb. A lot of building, parking and flow data is in authorities' hands and they are, understandably, reluctant about making it publicly available.

But with a trusted partner like HERE and our open location platform, we can combine all this data in a controlled way to create a neutral marketplace where companies who need the information can access it. By combining all these data points together, we can create a curb that works for the future, not one designed for the past.

To hear more about how we're rethinking the curb, join us at CES 2020 where I will be discussing this topic with HERE's smart city expert Luisa Wahlig.