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Montreal Parking Meters Run Linux 506

Posted by michael
from the working-for-the-man dept.
jbecherv writes "According to LinuxDevices.com, new-fangled Montreal parking meters run embedded Linux (Google Cache). The City of Montreal is planning to roll out 500 to 800 wireless, solar-powered parking payment stations based on embedded Linux. There is even a device profile (Google Cache) that show some details about the meters... These meters run kernel 2.4.19 on a 206MHz StrongARM SA-1110. Each system has 64MB of RAM, boots from a CF device, and is networked wirelessly via GPRS."
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Montreal Parking Meters Run Linux

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  • by Neil Blender (555885) <neilblender@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:07PM (#8921983)
    But that seems like a lot of RAM. Is it?
  • Solar powered? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:08PM (#8921997)
    I can't recall where it was, but some other city tried using solar powered parking meters. They never worked due to insufficient light.
    • by millahtime (710421) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:16PM (#8922144) Homepage Journal
      "I can't recall where it was, but some other city tried using solar powered parking meters. They never worked due to insufficient light."

      Oh, lemmie guess... Seattle.
      • Re:Solar powered? (Score:3, Informative)

        by genericacct (692294)
        Here in Portland, OR, where it rains almost as much, we have quite a few of them (solar powered), and they work fine even on cloudy winter days.
      • Re:Solar powered? (Score:3, Informative)

        by Quadrature (524139)
        Funny eh? I work in Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle and just today they had some machines very similar to these in operation on Occidental just south of Yesler. They ripped out the old meters and hiked up the rates by 50% too. Ahhh progress. I even found a link [seattle.wa.us].
    • Re:Solar powered? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Albanach (527650) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:20PM (#8922192) Homepage
      They're in use throughout Edinburgh, Scotland. I guess solar technology has improved a bit, as we don't get that much sun and daylight hours in the winter are quite short.
    • Re:Solar powered? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by re-Verse (121709) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:23PM (#8922219) Homepage Journal
      Toronto uses them. I'm not sure if they use a backup power source as well (I guess they must) But if you live in TO, take a look on top of one of he master nodes (where you put in cash/CC and get a ticket for your card, and you will notice the whole top is a solar panel.

      I have no idea how much (if any) money this saves, but I think its really cool... and got way too excited about it the first time I noticed it.
      • Re:Solar powered? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rtaylor (70602)
        Toronto's really don't "save" money per say (30 fewer collection agents -- 10% reduction in workforce).

        The big benefit is the new machines are more difficult to vandalize and are easier to maintain which means they work. They're regularly communicating with head-office and report when something is broken.

        It had been estimated that up to 10% of the old meters were broken at any given time. 10% of the meters not collecting revenue was a much bigger issue.
    • by Tragek (772040) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:23PM (#8922220) Journal
      How long did one have to put his/her hand on top of the meter before you could get free parking?
  • Is it just me... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:08PM (#8921999)
    Or does a 206 MHz processor with 64 MB of ram seem like DRASTIC OVERKILL for a parking meter?

    Seriously, what's the deal?
  • by medication (91890) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:08PM (#8922006) Journal
    Poor parking meters now they'll be the target of drunk geeks as well as drunk frat boys.
  • by jasno (124830) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:09PM (#8922017) Journal
    Lemme get this straight..

    Solar powered, in MONTREAL???

    Guess the StrongARM takes less power than I thought...
    • Re:Snow powered? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cbreaker (561297)
      Unless it's night time, there's plenty of light rays hitting the panels.

      Even if it's a dreary rainy day, your solar powered calculator works just fine, and it's only got three or four low quality solar cells.
  • by Coyote (9900) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:09PM (#8922021)
    Software should be free as in Free Parking.
  • great. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by garcia (6573) * on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:09PM (#8922027) Homepage
    Centralized control enables city officials to adjust rates on the fly, for example raising the rates during sporting events, concerts, or other times of high parking demand.

    as if meters aren't expensive enough... We really needed someone to come up w/the bright idea to allow dynamic changes to parking meters.

    The last parking meter I parked at was 25 cents for 10 minutes. That's just nuts. This will just enable them to have meters that take credit cards forcing even higher rates.

    Want a way to stop people from coming downtown? Raise the rates on the meters even higher.
    • "Centralized control enables city officials to adjust rates on the fly, for example raising the rates during sporting events, concerts, or other times of high parking demand."

      So, they are wireless and running Linux. We need some geek sporting fans to hack it and lower the price during sporting events to say $0.00.
    • Re:great. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Frohboy (78614) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:19PM (#8922178)
      Montreal actually has an excellent subway system, and fairly narrow, busy downtown roads. (More European-like than any other city I've been to in North America.)

      As someone who learned to drive on the crazy downtown streets of Montreal, I feel I can happily endorse city's public transit. :)
    • Re:great. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Albanach (527650) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:23PM (#8922229) Homepage
      as if meters aren't expensive enough... We really needed someone to come up w/the bright idea to allow dynamic changes to parking meters.

      Surely this is a perfect use of the market to determine price. We all accept that if we book a flight at an off peak time we'll get a cheaper price - why not the same for parking? Cities get busy during the day but are often quieter in the evening. What a boon for restaurants if parking can be set at $2 for the entire evening. If there's a big evening even on then $2 is too cheap - all the spaces will fill and chaos ensues, so adjust the rate to $4 an hour and encourage folk to take the metro / bus / taxi instead.

    • Re:great. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Keith McClary (14340) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:31PM (#8922325)
      We really needed someone to come up w/the bright idea to allow dynamic changes to parking meters. ...
      Want a way to stop people from coming downtown? Raise the rates on the meters even higher.


      Suppose you dynamically adjusted the rates so high that 10% of the parking spaces were always vacant.
      Then rich folks could always be sure of finding parking.
      Wouldn't that make downtown merchants happy?
    • Re:great. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Mr. Flibble (12943) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:41PM (#8922439) Homepage
      as if meters aren't expensive enough... We really needed someone to come up w/the bright idea to allow dynamic changes to parking meters.

      The last parking meter I parked at was 25 cents for 10 minutes. That's just nuts. This will just enable them to have meters that take credit cards forcing even higher rates.

      Want a way to stop people from coming downtown? Raise the rates on the meters even higher.


      You ever tried to find parking in downtown Montreal during an event? Hell, there is a reason when I lived in Montreal I did not even bother to get my drivers licence. The transit system there is wicked, and you can get pretty much anywhere you need to with it. But parking in the downtown core? It was always a pain in the ass. There is just not enough parking there, hell, when I went back to visit, I parked on the outskirts and took the metro to get downtown. I saved time on the parking.

      Look at it this way - it is a tax on those who are too lazy to take the public transit system, which is better for the environment anyhow. With the amount of parking space that is there I have no sympathy for anyone who drives in circles around the St. Catherines St Laurent area looking for a spot.
  • Hummm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RTPMatt (468649)
    Before people broke meters so they wont have to pay, now their gonna break 'em and take 'em home so they can use them!
  • i'm not saying embedded windows is safer, i'm just wondering if someone could easily hack this system, it would be interesting if someone got free parking in the city
    • Instructions (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Atario (673917) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:19PM (#8922175) Homepage
      1. Go to meter at 3am (no sunlight...power down)
      2. Cut open computer's chamber
      3. Attach your favorite distro on HD/CF/whatever
      4. Attach battery
      5. Log in
      6. Have fun with the parameters
      7. If credit cards are accepted...Profit!
      • Re:Instructions (Score:5, Interesting)

        by sahonen (680948) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @06:27PM (#8922922) Homepage Journal
        I dunno about you, but most parking meters I've seen have been made out of nice, solid metal to keep people from breaking in and taking out the change. I think these meters would be built the same.

        Also, they would probably have batteries to keep them running during periods of no sun... Otherwise, free parking on cloudy days, or you put in your money, come back and have a parking ticket because a cloud passed over the sun and reset the meter.
    • by photon317 (208409) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:21PM (#8922204)
      I'm sure someone will eventually notice an applicable remote exploit, it's bound to happen at some point. If they designed the embedded devices to be static (everything important on read-only roms, software upgrades to be done by running around to each one physically and replacing them), then as time passes the likelyhood of exploit will only grow and grow. If they designed them to be auto-updateable over the wireless network, then when someone finds an exploit before they manage to patch said exploit, they'll probably use it to re-install things their own way across the network, locking out further updates from the city, forcing the city guys to go out and manually clean out each machine by hand (erase/replace the flash storage that the OS and binaries was on).
  • Imagine... (Score:5, Funny)

    by FrYGuY101 (770432) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:10PM (#8922044) Journal
    Imagine a Beowulf cluster of those! Hours of parking time could be finished in minutes!
  • by kyoko21 (198413) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:11PM (#8922051)
    So what is going to happen when someone comes along with a thick black Sharpie Permanent Marker and mark the solar panel all black?
    • by Rikus (765448) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:19PM (#8922174)
      So, how about when somebody comes along with some chewed bubble gum and sticks it in the coin slots of the old parking meters? People are jerks.
      Maybe they could put the solar panels on poles?
    • So what is going to happen when someone comes along with a thick black Sharpie Permanent Marker and mark the solar panel all black?

      I would assume they have a monitoring system via their wireless connections.

      "I haven't charged in two days. Something must be up. Bird shit on my solar pannels?"

      The meter maids will now be equipped with WindeX.
  • by 511pf (685691) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:12PM (#8922073)
    Parking meters are simple and reliable. Nothing like taking something that just works and replacing it with something else that is infinitely more complex, break-prone and expensive. Besides which, people will never use these things successfully. "Put coin in slot next to car" is as smart as people are. Seriously. People are going to pay for the wrong parking spots, pay too much money, and so on. Bad idea.
    • I can understand a reason for some of the upgrades. Like how many people keep change on them anymore. It's all plastic. I always have the hardest time when that happens cause all I ever have is a lot of pennies on me.
    • by bear_phillips (165929) * on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:30PM (#8922316) Homepage
      Nothing like taking something that just works and replacing

      Where did you get the idea that old style parking meters "just work." Many are based on a wind up mechanism for the timing. They are notorously inaccurate. There is a reason people switched from wind up watches to digital watches.

    • by neile (139369) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:34PM (#8922359)

      There was an article in the Seattle PI today [nwsource.com] about Seattle's plans to do this exact same change:

      Up to 80 parking meters are out of service on any given day, Krawczyk said. The pay stations are much more reliable.

      The article also talks about how Portland made the same switchover, and the successes they had:

      "They've worked wonderfully for us," McCoy said, adding that "Seattle people have been down here on a number of occasions" to study the Portland pay stations. Portland's pay stations have been less expensive to maintain than the oft-malfunctioning meters. And the credit cards have reduced the costs of handling coins, he said. "From a customer perspective, having the ability to make card transactions has been the big benefit down here," he said. About 50 percent of Portland's parking revenue now comes via credit cards.

      Neil

  • Solar powered? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by FedeTXF (456407)
    I wonder how many sunny days and how many actual sunlight hours those park meters get in Montreal. Specially in winter. How big are the panels? Mars probe technology is being deployed?
  • by millahtime (710421) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:12PM (#8922078) Homepage Journal
    Detroit is rolling out high tech ones too [wired.com]
  • exploits... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Neotrantor (597070)
    so like... how long till theres an exploits to get free parking?
  • it would be cool... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by foQ (551575) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:14PM (#8922106)
    it would be cool if you could pay for your car online if a meeting runs long or something. other than that, this seems like more of a waste of money and raises the risk of them getting stolen. stealing the old fashioned ones is cool, but stealing a bunch of portable solar computers would be bad-ass!
    • by Atario (673917) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:30PM (#8922309) Homepage
      They don't want you paying the meter like you're supposed to. If you do, they only get 25 cents per 15 minutes or whatever (which would be a maximum of, what $24 per day? Even if they are in force 24 hours, which few are?). If you fail to pay, and the meter-maid spots it, they get $25 (or similar). They get more (possibly far more) for one ticket than for a whole day of good little parkers.

      This is why there's often a short maximum total parking time limit -- gotta have turnover. The more people park, the more tickets have a chance of getting written.

      This is also why you see news stories every now and then about people who go around feeding other people's meters getting arrested or otherwise harrased. These Helpy Helpertons cut down on revenue.

      Municipalities don't want obedience, they want money. The parking-meter scam is but one method.
      • Municipalities don't want obedience, they want money. The parking-meter scam is but one method.

        The scam in my city is "street cleaning days". In the 20 years I've lived here I've seen an actual street cleaning machine on my block only once. Yet up to 60% of the parking spaces will be unavilable on any given day due to street cleaning revenue enhancement. The might as well just issue a parking permit, charge $200 for it and be done with it. It would be cheaper for those of us whom work nights.
  • Reading the blurb, did anyone else think of the intro scene in Cool Hand Luke?

    Harvesting for a cluster :)
  • spare MHz? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Janek Kozicki (722688) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:15PM (#8922120) Journal
    few hunderds of spare 200 MHz ? I wonder if their administrator will resist the tempation of installing disturbed computing client (like seti@home, or distcc [samba.org] >;-)
  • imagine one which has a plan of the entire parking lot (one floor only if multistorey) and you push your spot to pay. saves the (minor) hassle (in UK) for those where you get a sticker and have to take it back to your car and put it in the dash.

    combined with a CCTV (improved security) it also means that if you run out of money license plate read so a fine can be charged (payable upon return or higher fine if later through post).

    reading plates also allows for tracking of stolen vehicles.

    I give you... the
  • And the reason is? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BrodyVess (455213) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:17PM (#8922148)
    I have a parking meeter "obtained" from the storage room of my local municipality about 20 years ago. They had been out of service for 10 years, and installed 10 before that. Old enough that you could buy 8 minuites for a penny, anyway. Now, when I was playing with it as a kid- it still worked. Heavy as hell, was death on toes, but it still worked. In 40 years, where will these be? How will they be safely disposed of?

    Just like touch screen voting, this seems like a "because we can" application of technology. Sometimes there's no reason to replace what works. The old steel parking meters are quite literally bulletproof. I simply cant imagine any reason that makes networked meters any better.

    Of course, when I moved to DC I sold my car and bought a bus pass, so what do I know?
    • Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Senjutsu (614542) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:23PM (#8922222)
      You had a 40 year old parking meter that would let you add more time to it from any other parking meter in the city (rather than having to run across the block/campus/city to that particular parking meter)? And the city could dynamically adjust the rates for a given area of the city in order to curtail congestion patterns??

      That's incredible!
  • I remember way back in the day, a full set of support for PDA hardware and software was available. Digital was licensing the technology in order to develop the StrongARM (1995/6 for the 200Mhz version IIRC - got a Palm on my desk that's powered by one of those). ARM didn't have quite the same profile in embedded systems markets in those days, but they were certainly aware of the potential of their CPU: the ARM6 was the first CPU they specifically designed for embedded applications.

    Interesting that it's now
  • Overkill (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Quebst (263980) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:18PM (#8922173) Homepage
    Isn't this just a bit much for a parking meter? The more simple a solution, usually the better. There would be a reduction in moving parts with using the new devices, but I don't think that and the network idea are enough to justify this. The fact is the more complex things are made, the better chance of something going wrong. Even in the article they mention having to fix a bug. What will happen when another bug starts shorting people ticket time and they have to deal with a mob of angry car owners? Solar power is good and all, but has it ever been used successfully on such a project? It looks like politics took control and pushed special interests ahead of common sense. At least they're not running Windows PM special ultra extreme .NET software.
  • by David Hume (200499) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:19PM (#8922180) Homepage

    The Device Profile [linuxdevices.com] states, "The stations run a Linux distribution that 8D developed in-house." Where is the source code? I searched:

    8D [8d.com]

    http://www.8d.com/ [8d.com]

    But couldn't find anything. How can we efficiently build on 8D's [8d.com] work to build a better, competitive parking meter without the code?

    • by Vicegrip (82853) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:50PM (#8922541) Journal
      "Where is the source code? I searched"

      It looks like your making a joke, but I figured I'd mention this anyways as people seem to get confused at times about what the GPL demands of distributors.

      The GPL states their obligation for supplying the code is to those who receive their products and by inferrence to whom they have distributed the imbedded Linux binaries to.

      It looks like to get the code you're going to have to buy a traffic meter from them or ask for it from one of their current customers.
  • by ptelligence (685287) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:21PM (#8922198)
    Excerpt from SCO's reactionary press release: "Anyone who parks at one of these meters is in effect using Linux, and therefore owes SCO $699 + 25 cents per half hour."

    -Darl

    Somebody e-mail me the free parking exploit

  • Amazing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by almaon (252555) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:22PM (#8922211)
    Normally any conversation taking place about technical advancements of parking meters is usually left to the pub with the intoxicated...

    But alas here I am... sober.

    What I wonder is, being able to use your cell phone to pay for your parking fare on such a possible UBER METER, would it also SMS or phone you to nag you that your time is almost up and it's time to "feed" the meter?

    Anyone that remembers pay toilets is surely dieing for info on state-of-the-art bleeding edge toilet tech. Anyone have any info on computerized pay toilets?
  • parking tickets (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Barbarian (9467) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:25PM (#8922244)
    Sounds like these meters will automatically tell the parking officer when your time is up. They could even combine them with pavement sensors and photo recognition (or RFID!) in the future to automatically ticket you.
  • by elleomea (749084)
    Let's go warparking!
  • by GillBates0 (664202) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:29PM (#8922306) Homepage Journal
    Meter maids can cruise for violators using ruggedized Intermec handheld devices inside their vehicles. The devices have built-in city maps on which paid spots are green and unpaid spots are red.

    I would like them to come up with a device (or a GPS plugin or whatever) which would show me the empty parking spots available in a radius around my current location.

    I would think most people who work/commute downtown and don't want to pay monthly parking fees would be willing to shell out big bucks for such a feature.

    Certainly beats crawling around the roadside for hours trying to find a parking spot.

  • by puppetman (131489) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:31PM (#8922336) Homepage
    In greater Vancouver, we have dodgey characters that drive around with hacksaws, decapitating the meters for the change inside. A thousand dollar parking meter gets destroyed for $40 in change.

    In Montreal, it will be geeks with hacksaws. Rather than being tossed into a lake, the parking meters will show up in a home-built robot.
    • Ok, has anyone actually RTFA? Take one look at the picture [linuxdevices.com] of the machine, and then tell me you'll be choping it up with a hacksaw.

      This mostly comes from the poster calling it a "Parking Meter" when it is more like a "Parking Pay Station".

      • It looks easier to chop up than a real parking meter to me. Traditional parking meters are mounting on a pipe of thick wall steel, they just bend a little if you slam into them at 35mph with a truck. And take forever to hack saw.

        That parking meter looks on par with a telephone circuit box. you could probably take it out with a chain and a chevy. It looks less imposing than an ATM.

        Of course an angle grinder would be the best bet. then you can just open it up like a tin can, take the parts out you want and
  • Why (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CastrTroy (595695) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:35PM (#8922372) Homepage
    Seems to me they had parking metres before the days of Linux and IC's. Why the hell would you need an operating system on a parking meter. Sounds like a big waste of money to me. I think the mechanical ones would be a lot easier to maintain. People just have to make everything so damn complicated nowadays.
  • by ortcutt (711694) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:36PM (#8922385)
    Just try getting those things to play sound. Even parking meters that ran Windows 95 could find the sound card with no problem.
  • Q Temperature? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 4of12 (97621) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @06:03PM (#8922680) Homepage Journal

    Solar powered is great, but what happens when those Montreal winters come blasting?

    Most batteries don't fare well as the temperature plummets towards -40, either.

  • by salmonz (697297) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @06:31PM (#8922973)
    Hi,

    I work for Precise Parklink [preciseparklink.com], the provider for the Toronto Parking Authority and many municipalities in Ontario and Western Canada. Our machines are solely based on a EPROM with very little data stored. Why would anyone need 64MB? Our machines also operate on GPRS GSM 'and' Mobitex, solar power, wireless, etc. There's no kernel, no flash card, and works great. One thing that would really impress me is if these Linux machines could accept debit, and most of all, if someone is able to hack it. Also, storing credit card data on a compactflash card garentees the data always exists, which is a bad thing if someone were to tamper with the machine. With our machines, the transactions aren't stored on the EPROM, but instead on RAM. If the machine is turned off or reset, the cc data is lost and the parker is safe from someone stealing their credit card number. Bottom line, the more advanced technology gets for parking meters, the more susceptable to fraud, bugs, and security issues.
  • by porky_pig_jr (129948) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @07:12PM (#8923344)
    metermaids ...
  • These machines suck (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cyclone66 (217347) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @09:36PM (#8924460) Homepage Journal
    Here's why:

    There's one meter per block, at each parking spot there's a sign with a number. A123 or A435, B342, etc. You read your number, go to ANY machine in Montreal, punch in that number and you can put money in your meter. Now this is where they got greedy. They got sick of people using leftover time from previous 'customers' so any time you add money to a specific spot it resets to 0.

    So if there is 2 hours on the machine and I want to add an hour (you can only have a max of 3 hours) I will have to pay for the full 3 hours. Furthermore you can not see how much money is left on the meter except by looking at the ticket it prints.

    So if you have class and need to add a bit of money to the meter so it'll last till the end of class you have to add the full amount since it will restart.

    Now for the mischief. There's nothing stopping you from punching in someone else's number, adding 25 cents and reducing there time to 15 minutes! Essentially guaranteeing a ticket.

    So if someone has 3 hours on there meter, and you come by and put in 25 cents it will go to 15 minutes. This can be handy to use against people you don't like or just random strangers with nice cars, etc. Anyways it seems like a big problem.

    The only thing I was thinking is that maybe the machine will keep track of the OLD value as well as the new value to prevent this, but it's still screwing over people who want to add money to their own meter.

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