Taking the stress out of finding a parking space

8th November 2017
Lanna Cooper

When Control Freq’s founder, Noel Sesto, first tried to take his technology to market in 2007 the sector wasn’t ready, and he was forced to change tack. However, ten years later he’s come full circle and is part of a revolution with the potential to change the parking market in a similar way that Airbnb is changing the hotel sector. Breakthrough magazine spoke to Noel Sesto to learn more.

Sesto's expertise lies in using mobile technology based on GSM networks - the same ones that mobile phones use - in non-traditional applications. Around ten years ago, while living in Australia, he was working in the access control industry and would spend a significant amount of his time visiting customers to reprogramme or replace the key fobs required to open the gates.

Sesto quickly realised there were too many different systems on the market causing endless access problems for many people: “I began to consider how one universal device could be used, where regardless of the site conditions it could be made to work. There had to be a solution whereby the access system could be controlled remotely, without the Internet. It struck me that the one device that most people carried was a mobile phone.”

Sestol worked on his idea until he felt he had a solution that would work. He then found a manufacturer to create the electronics and developed the software required. With all this in place, he built a system that allowed a mobile phone to call a GSM enabled control box and open a gate.

Next, Sesto began to take his idea to property managers. However, this was before the first iPhone had been released, and the power of the mobile device wasn’t yet fully appreciated. They all said ‘no thanks’, it will never take off and it’s not for us.

Sesto even took the concept to the security gate manufacturers and distributors themselves, but they couldn’t see past the lucrative sales of replacement fobs, so they weren’t interested in the idea either.

“Reluctantly I conceded that the market wasn’t ready and I went back to the drawing board,” said Sesto.

Determined to exploit the benefits that mobile technology could offer, however, he re-developed his idea and created GSM enabled intercoms which used the same core technology - connecting both ends of the intercom via a mobile phone call. This product was well received, in part because the technology in use was essentially invisible.

This approach went on to form the core of Control Freq’s business for some years. The concept was evolved to create Taxi call systems, information call points, and a range of door entry systems. It even became part of alarm monitoring systems - for traditional building alarms and also for monitoring plant and equipment and a range of other devices.

Then, around 18 months ago, Sesto saw his technology take a new path, much closer to the one he had originally intended. This breakthrough came when Sesto was able to link his GSM enabled devices to the Internet and more specifically, to communicate with web servers.

It has required significant development of firmware, creation of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and other technical advancements but Sesto’s core technology is now able to access web servers which has opened up a whole new range of possibilities.

A major project that is utilising this new connectivity is fuelled by the growth in the sharing economy. ‘Just Park’ and ‘Your Parking Space’ are platforms that match unused parking spaces with people who need somewhere to leave their cars. They are part of the sharing economy that operate in a similar way to the well-known room finding service Airbnb.

Initially, these parking services worked with individuals, with driveways and other spaces that were available. However, right across the country, there are also thousands of empty spaces in secure parking facilities. When they are not being used for their primary purpose - staff parking perhaps - they can offer valuable parking real estate.

However, such parking facilities often have security gates and access systems in place. The owners do not want to give out entry codes or fobs which would compromise security, so, traditionally they have not formed part of this new shared-parking ecosystem.

At least until the parking platforms started working with Sesto and his technology. Hardware that can open and secure the parking area’s gates can now be installed at the site and connected to the Internet via a SIM card.

Now, when a customer goes to the parking platform and books a parking space, they are sent a unique access code. On arrival at the parking venue, they enter the code and can gain access, thanks to the hardware’s ability to check details with the parking platform’s web servers.

There are many security-based benefits to this approach. Firstly, the platform has captured the driver’s details, including their registration and payment card information. The systems can log when a driver arrives and then leaves. They can even limit the times during which the access code is valid and ensure it is only used for the period booked. And, of course, once the parking period has elapsed, the code will no longer work.

With these far greater levels of security, this new approach opens up valuable revenue streams to site owners, particularly in city centres where parking costs can be sky-high.

“It might not suit everyone,” Sesto continued. “There will always be a few facilities where the risk profile won’t merit the additional revenue, such as a bank’s underground car park, but, for the most part, the risks remain very low as the users are vetted, have pre-paid and their access is logged to the second.”

The use of GSM technology has enabled this connectivity where other methods are not practical or reliable enough. Remote locations are often difficult to connect to the Internet by cable, and the structure of many of the facilities does not suit the use of WiFi because signal interference and unreliability could cause system outages.

Mobile (3G) technology is far easier to implement and is more reliable. An external antenna may be required, but this is rare, especially in cities, so installation is straight forward. The systems can run on any SIM card including multinetwork SIM cards that will always connect to the strongest of the major networks - so lost connections are unlikely.

Sesto now sees the evolving 3G mobile technology opening up even more capabilities for his systems in the future. “As the networks improve and we get fully reliable 4G, and then 5G, our systems will be able to use streaming video and face recognition. However, the connections would need to be super fast, and the high speed connections would have to be more reliable than they currently are,” he concluded.

However, having learned the pitfalls of being too far ahead of the curve, Sesto has put these additional capabilities on his ‘to-do one day’ list, preferring to focus on the core original idea of mobile access control systems.

Control Freq has worked with Breakthrough funding, a company that helps UK SMEs achieve R&D tax credits - a government scheme created to enhance and reward innovation amongst UK businesses. Could you be eligible? Click here to learn more.

For more information, click here.

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