Sidewalk Labs – Introducing Pebble: A low-cost way to manage parking and curbs

May 18, 2021




Real-time insights can help garage and lot operators, real estate developers, and municipal agencies make the most of existing parking spaces — and build less of them in the future.

Parking in cities is a complex problem. Sometimes there’s not enough parking, which creates traffic congestion and vehicle pollution as drivers circle for a space at the curb, in a garage, or in a lot. And sometimes there’s way more parking than a place typically needs, which raises building costs and takes up space that might go toward housing, parks, or other valuable uses.

But parking operators, real estate developers, and municipal agencies don’t have access to the information they need to manage their parking supply most effectively. Existing parking availability technology tends to be expensive, difficult to install, or even invasive. That’s why Sidewalk Labs is excited to introduce Pebble: a low-cost, easy-install, privacy-preserving vehicle sensor designed to help manage parking in innovative and sustainable ways.

Pebble provides real-time data about parking space availability, with a dashboard to help analyze historical parking patterns. These insights can help communicate space availability to customers, reduce circling, and create shared parking zones that minimize the number of spaces built in the first place. Pebble’s low-infrastructure design also makes it easier to install and lower cost than existing street sensors on the market.

Pebble is already helping pilot customers manage tens of thousands of parking spaces and consider their future parking needs. If you’re a parking operator, developer, or city agency managing parking or curb spaces, reach out through our website to learn more. And if you just want to know more about how Pebble works and how it might be used to make cities more affordable and sustainable — keep reading!

Low cost, easy-install, low infrastructure

The wireless Pebble system consists of two easy-install parts:

  • Individual Pebble sensors can be quickly placed on a surface using adhesive. Though just 2.8 inches in diameter, these sensors have two sensing capabilities, improving accuracy and reliability over existing street sensors on the market.

  • The solar-powered Pebble gateway uses the cellular network, so it can be strapped to a pole without running new wires or trenching through pavement, which most existing street sensing systems require.

In addition to easy installation, Pebble is designed for low ongoing maintenance. Pebble sensors can operate for years on standard settings and have undergone rigorous real-world testing to ensure accuracy and reliability. The solar-powered gateway can operate indefinitely, even in cloudy conditions.

Once in place, Pebble sensors relay the presence (or absence) of a vehicle in real time. That’s all Pebble collects: whether or not a vehicle is there. The system uses no cameras or other ways to identify a person or vehicle. Consistent with our approach to data minimization, there simply wasn’t a need for such data to achieve the goal of vehicle detection. (We’ve also started thinking of ways to extend this privacy-sensitive approach to parking payment and permits.)

Let’s get into a few ways of using Pebble to improve quality of life in cities.

For operators, city agencies, and developers: Share real-time parking availability to improve navigation or encourage transit

Circling for parking accounts for up to 30 percent of traffic congestion in cities, with all the accompanying vehicle emissions. Pebble’s real-time parking availability insights can be integrated into navigation apps through our API, helping drivers navigate directly to an open space in a private lot or garage or at a city-managed curb.

Real-time parking information can also alert would-be drivers when spaces are limited before they even leave home, leading them to use alternative travel modes, such as park-and-ride transit or ferries. For example, a smart parking program at a BART park-and-ride station reduced driving by a monthly average of nearly 10 miles per person — and even shortened commutes.

For developers: Use insights to create shared parking zones and build less parking

Some cities allow developers to build less parking than regulations require if they can prove that sufficient space already exists to meet demand. This strategy is often called “shared” parking: for instance, a restaurant that does most of its business at night might share a parking garage with an office that’s open during the day, rather than each building their own.

Lack of information is a big hurdle to creating shared parking zones, but low-cost sensors like Pebble can help developers fill that gap. Such insights can reduce costs for developers significantly — a single parking space costs $24,000-$34,000, on average — leading to better uses of city space and potentially driving down costs for residents and tenants.

For city agencies: Optimize curbside use to generate revenue or support business

Competition for the curb is at an all-time high, a trend that accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Pebble enables city curb managers to implement flexible programs such as dynamic pricing or outdoor dining, generating revenue and supporting local businesses.

For example, the highly successful SFpark program — which used dynamic pricing to ensure spaces were available on every block — increased net parking revenue and cut circling in half during the pilot (2011–2013). But SFpark’s dynamic pricing strategy got started with information from a sophisticated sensor network, something the city could only afford thanks to a large federal grant. Pebble provides cities with a more affordable option.

Additionally, curb management companies like Coord (a Sidewalk Labs incubated company) are working with cities to allocate and manage “smart loading zones” for commercial deliveries. Space availability data at these zones could enable real-time reservations or redirect drivers to a nearby zone when another is occupied.

Looking ahead

This list of potential use cases for a product like Pebble is by no means exhaustive. We think a low-cost, easy-install, privacy-preserving way to measure parking and curb space can help get any number of new ideas for more sustainable and innovative cities off the ground. If you’re a parking operator, real estate developer, or curb manager interested in using Pebble, contact us at or visit our website.