Can’t find parking downtown? The Grand Rapids teenager has an app for that

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Vishnu Mano may not have his driver’s license yet, but he’s working to make downtown parking easier for Grand Rapids drivers.

The 16-year-old has developed an app, called Observerwhich helps users find open parking spaces in downtown Grand Rapids.

Mano, a junior from City High/Middle School of Grand Rapids Public Schools, recently received a $5,000 prize in a local startup competition to expand his application from parking ramps to on-street parking in the town. He said he wanted to help people save time and money by locating parking spots more easily.

“American drivers waste an estimated 4 billion hours a year trying to find a parking space,” Mano told MLive/The Grand Rapids Press in an interview on Monday, March 7. “It’s a big issue from a time perspective. But not only that, on the environment; you have 300 million metric tons of greenhouse gases released every year.

“I hope that by using my app, drivers can save time and stop wasting fuel, which will hopefully help the environment.”

Mano came up with the idea as part of his 10th grade personal project, for City Middle/High students to complete in second grade as part of the school’s International Baccalaureate program. Students submit a project based on a topic they are passionate about or a problem they want to solve in their community.

Mano recalled a time when his family went to a Grand Rapids Griffins hockey game when he was younger, and they ended up arriving late to the game because they couldn’t find a parking spot. .

“We had to miss the face-off because we couldn’t find a parking spot,” he recalls.

Mano decided he wanted to dedicate his personal project to solving the downtown parking problem and started thinking about what a solution might look like.

“I wasn’t sure what the solution would look like, I just knew I wanted to create an app that would help drivers quickly find a free parking spot, especially during busy nights in downtown Grand Rapids,” said he declared.

The teenager built a rough prototype – consisting of an iPhone, tape and some rubber bands – that used sensor technology to determine if a parking space was occupied, and could upload that information to a database to locate free places in real time.

After the class project was completed, Mano decided to take his personal project a step further by pitching his idea to the city of Grand Rapids, he said.

“I was waiting for feedback on my idea, maybe brainstorming to find a better solution, but surprisingly they offered me an internship, that’s where this project kind of took off,” said- he declared.

Thanks to his internship with the city, Mano was able to develop a more legitimate prototype of a sensor that could analyze whether a parking space was open and upload that information to an app. The city installed a dozen sensors in the Ottawa-Fulton parking ramp so Mano could test the technology.

He was also able to develop a more cost-effective sensor device, bringing the cost down from $50 to $2 per sensor.

“All a parking ramp would have to do is attach one of these sensors to each parking spot in a parking ramp and, in real time, that sensor updates information to our app if the parking spot is open,” he said.

“As this is affordable for parking ramps to implement, it would be just another utility that would help them attract more customers and help their drivers save time when parking.”

Vishnu Maro, 16, holds up a sensor box he created to help locate open parking spots in the city of Grand Rapids. The sensor, which costs $2 to build, is attached to a parking space and uses a camera to detect if a space is open, and uploads that data to an app so people can find free spaces through the app. (Melissa Frick |

Mano said he continues to work with the City of Grand Rapids to test sensors in parking ramps, and his goal is to develop sensors that can also be used for on-street parking.

The teenager recently participated in 5×5 Nighta regional pitch competition, where it won a $5,000 grant last month to help extend its sensors to the streets.

Eventually, Mano wants to be able to sell the Spotter app as a service to parking vendors and ramps, he explained.

“The idea is basically to sell this directly to parking companies and make it a service for anyone who basically wants to park on demand,” Mano said.

The teenager was celebrated for his work at the Monday, March 7, meeting of the Grand Rapids School Board.

City High/Middle School Principal Ryan Huppert said he was blown away by Mano’s innovation and determination throughout the project.

“It’s not often that we have a student who has an incredible idea like this, that really meets a need, but on top of that, has the character, the intelligence and the courage to carry it out. well, realizing this idea really from start to finish,” Huppert said Monday.

“From 3D printing, to writing code, to finding the city and these companies to make it happen, it was all his initiative. It all started as his idea, but seeing it come to fruition through a project school is right, well, that’s why we’re doing this.

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