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SPeeD project - Technology helping people with disabilities

Disabled parking place 
One of the key purposes of modern technologies is certainly to improve people’s quality of life, by understanding their needs and addressing their problems. This can be particularly important when we consider the needs of persons suffering from some kind of disability.

This is precisely the idea which led to the creation of SPeeD, a project by the company Liberologico in cooperation with CRS4, the Sardinian Association for the Visually Impaired and the Sardinian Branch of FISH. The project’s aim is to create a platform to help persons with disabilities organise their car trips by monitoring the status of disabled parking spaces in cities. To come to grips with the project we asked a few questions to Paolo Lanari, Liberologico’s CEO and one of its founders.

Let’s start with Liberologico: what is it and how did it come into being?
To cut a long story short, Liberologico is a company with a passion for technology, innovation and technology-enabled business models. It’s a software engineering house, founded in 1999 by a team of researchers from the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, with a focus on smart urban mobility and smart parking technologies, the Internet of things, cloud computing and big data. After several years’ hard work, which gained us recognition and market success, in 2011 Liberologico joined forces with other businesses to set up Kiunsys Srl, a company targeting sustainable innovation applied to the management of urban mobility, parking and city logistics.

And how did you come up with the SPeeD project and cooperation with FISH, the Sardinian Association for the Visually Impaired and CRS4?
The SPeeD project was prompted by the call launched by Sardegna Ricerche for the development of ICT solutions to close the digital divide, achieve the full integration of persons with disabilities and promote the use and uptake of technologies helping reduce and break down barriers to social inclusion. We decided to enlist the help of CRS4 with which we had already cooperated on a research project, MIMOSA. At the time, we had developed a smart mobility and smart transportation platform, able to facilitate and support the development of advanced ITS services. In turn, CRS4 put us in touch with FISH and with the Sardinian Association for the Visually Impaired. Both associations participate in SPeeD as stakeholders: their role will be to help us in the initial analysis and design stages and then, later on, in testing and assessing the smart parking services in the field.

Can you walk us through the SPeeD project?
The SPeeD project aims to be a practical example of deployment and use of ICTs for reducing and breaking down barriers to social inclusion. Its main purpose is to help persons with disabilities move around town with greater confidence. They will be able to consult the service via mobile devices (mobile app, web, SMS) to plan their trips and use with greater ease the parking spaces reserved to them, especially in urban areas. SPeeD also addresses another serious issue: the widespread abusive use of reserved parking spaces by non-disabled drivers. SPeeD will do this via a platform able to monitor automatically and in real time the occupancy status of reserved parking spaces and to check whether they have been occupied legitimately or not. Lastly, we will add mobility information services, which will predict the occupancy state of parking spaces by means of new predictive algorithms. The algorithms will use both the data generated by the sensors for disabled parking monitoring and control, and those generated by other urban parking devices, for instance parking meters, the mobile apps for parking information and digital payment, the palm-held devices used by parking enforcement staff and traffic flow sensors. The data will also be available to public authorities, to help them optimise the location and use of these reserved parking spaces. To develop these services, we must start from preliminary R&D activities, to create algorithms able to predict the availability and occupancy status of parking spaces, and develop user interfaces that can be used easily by both persons with disabilities and their carers if any.

What role can ICTs play in assisting persons with disabilities?
Widespread, effective use of ICTs can certainly go a long way in reducing and even breaking down barriers to social inclusion. In some areas, the gains are already quite noticeable and have significantly improved the quality of life of persons with disabilities. As concerns urban mobility, city authorities have been engaged for some time now in improving the management of city traffic and minimising its attendant problems. One key resource in this respect are ITS technologies, which have a twofold purpose: deliver mobility services to citizens and help local authorities manage traffic and monitor compliance with the rules. And this of course helps make cities more liveable and financially sustainable. But developing specific solutions to help persons with disabilities means taking an extra step – making an effort which should be a priority and is well within reach. This is a view shared by the European Union which, among many other projects developing innovative mobility and transport technologies, has also decided to invest in piloting a new version of the EU-wide Blue Badge parking permit for the disabled. The idea is to develop an electronic permit improving use of disabled parking spaces and fighting the counterfeiting or unlawful use of permits.

Carlo Contu