2009/11/29

How Skymeter got started

I am often asked where the idea for Skymeter came from.

The idea occurred first in the spring of 2002. I was speeding mindlessly and got a ticket. That how I get all speeding tickets since I turned 35. I imagined a device that was loaded with speeds by road segment that bleeped when I was going over by an enforceable margin. A private, automatic back-seat driver that would work even when my wife was not with me. Within 2 weeks, I had concluded that the number of people who speed mindlessly and would be interested to purchase this device would be minuscule.

By then I had received a parking ticket on Queen Street East after leaving my lunch guest at a restaurant to feed my meter. I was maybe a minute late (the clock on the meter was fast). I was soon hooked on the idea of a parking meter that completely wiped out current parking payment management practices, including tickets. This was simply for convenience.

This parking ticket deeply set the idea that the way governments manage payment services for parking was wasteful and needlessly adversarial. It would take me
another two years to find out how really abysmal the whole of parking management was - especially in North America.

While working with a colleague
in the fall of 2002 to understand how well a modified (moving average) Garmin positioning device with added store and forward might act as a parking meter, he commented: "why not use this for road pricing?" I was frankly surprised at the idea. He pointed out that Europeans were poised to do this, and when I looked into it that evening, found that the London Congestion Charge was due to start early in 2003 by deploying a hideous complex and expensive system, that would have me leave Toronto were it to be deployed here. I immediately started to design a system that would do both parking and road pricing. I renamed my IT consulting company to Applied Location Corporation and called my product Skymeter.

In October of 2003, I met the first of many transportation economists I would befriend. He taught me two things: pay-as-you-drive insurance was a third and critical vehicular payment service and road pricing was essentially agreed among transport economists and likely inevitable. His advice was to concentrate on the technological enablers and not to worry about explaining the necessity of road pricing.

In 2004, I applied for a patent for a three-in-one payment services system for road-pricing, parking-payment and pay-as-you-drive insurance. Skymeter Corporation was formed in late 2006 based on all of the R+D done by Applied Location to that point.

2 comments:

Luke said...

How do you adjust for notoriously bad reception in Downtown cores like Mahattan and Chicago's Loop?

Bern Grush said...

Luke: Thanks for your question. There are usually two reasons no one asks this: (1) they are not aware that it is a problem, much less a difficult one, or (2) they do know, but are convinced it cannot be solved.

We have developed a form of liability-critical GPS we call Financial-grade GPS (FGPS). This is very different in nature and purpose from navigation-grade GPS such as Garmin or Tom-Tom. We start with the same signals (which are subject to the deflections and shadowing you are concerned about), but we have techniques to defeat non-line-of-sight (NLoS) multipath, which makes the critical difference. I cannot say more without an NDA. Here is an independent study from Caltrans that details this achievement.

http://www.skymetercorp.com/cms/images/News/CaltransIndependentSkymeterEvaluationReport.pdf