Beestar unveils its new Hassle Free Parking solution
Italian journalist Alessio Lana writes about the experience on ilSole24Ore
The time is finally mature for Beestar to unveil the Hassle Free Parking device developed in partnership with MyOrder, an innovative Dutch service company from Rabogroup. For the occasion, we invited Alessio Lana, an Italian journalist that writes about technology on the main Italian newspapers and magazines such as Wired and IlSole24Ore, to try it and give us his impression.
The day after, Mr. Lana wrote about his experience with the Hassle Free Parking device. For the non Italian speakers, an English translation of the article follows.
Imagine a world where you just park your car and the parking fee gets automatically taken care of, without any action required on our part. Imagine then to hop into your car again, leave the parking place and the payment stops, again without having to touch anything.
It is not the future, but a new device invented by two Italians, which will be launched on the market in April. For now, the prototype is called Hassle Free Parking and has been created by Beestar, a Dutch company that in addition to the two Italians has on board a Russian and a Dutch-English woman, all around 35 years old.
There are already more or less automatic systems for parking but they are plagued by two problems: they are based on the use of smartphones and rely on GPS technology. Translated, that means that those who do not have a smartphone are out of the game and if the phone runs out of charge or the owner forgets to stop the parking transaction, you cannot stop the payment of the fee. Moreover, the GPS has an accuracy ranging from three up to even twenty meters, a little too many to understand if your car is illegally parked or if you have to pay one fee rather than another. We tried it in Amsterdam, the site of Beestar, a city with super-narrow streets, where three meters make the difference between the end of a road and the beginning of the canals or the bicycle path and where even between the two sides of the street different rates may apply. The test was carried out by itself. We stopped the car and in a matter of instants we received a message with the confirmation of the start of the parking transaction. A map shows where we parked with maniacal precision, while the company’s back-end notifies the municipality that the parking is being payed for and starts to charge the user. For the parking attendant, scanning the car’s plate is enough to check the transaction and in case of problems, the system pushes a notification on your smartphone or, and this is a great idea, it simply calls you. So in short, we can also use it with a mobile phone of the 90s.
As big as a pack of cigarette, you put the device on the dashboard and it charges itself, thanks to a photovoltaic cell (but there is also a USB charger). It equips a SIM card to send and receive data and a GNSS module, the real gem of the whole system. In fact, instead of using only the fallacious GPS, the guys have created Beestar Retrace, their proprietary technology that corrects the satellite signals using the WAAS or Egnos network of ground stations, already used by aircrafts, and data published by NASA every thirty seconds with the updated position of all the satellites. The third ingenious idea is to delegate calculations and position derivation to Beestar’s servers, removing much of the dirty work from the device, so to make it smaller and cost-effective. It does not need a costly eight core CPU, just a low-power microcontroller, no memory cards nor exaggeratedly powerful batteries. Therefore, the price falls down so dramatically that the forecast is to
charge €5 per month for the service and the device is free. Not bad considering that you no longer have to hunt for parking meters and everything is fully automated.
The accuracy of Retrace, in fact goes beyond the parking lot and allows businesses to make the leap from mobile based payments, to the more innovative location based payment, which exploits precise positioning. Knowing exactly where a car is, presents considerable advantages and leads to imagine interesting developments. “In the future, we will be able to completely automate the payment for fuel or the car wash, by knowing exactly which fuel pump the car is using or at which car station the driver stopped at”, says Emanuele Francioni, engineer born in Rome and Beestar’s front man. “Outside of the car, you can exploit the data for hyperlocal ads, pushed based on the precise location someone is at”, adds co-founder Fulvio Venturelli, a long-time software engineer since 1999, when he was 19.
As mentioned, for now the service will start in Amsterdam with an excellent partner, the innovative mobile payment section, MyOrder, part of the Dutch bank Rabobank, which starting at the end of April, will offer Hassle Free Parking to businesses and/or consumers. The target is principally the car lease or car sharing companies: the user renting the car is no longer obliged to connect its own mobile number or bank account to a car he does not own and won’t have to insert its Paypal password in order to pay for the parking. The car lease company will take care of everything in a way that will be transparent and very convenient for the user.
Besides the technological solutions, the originality of Beestar is evident also in the business solutions, in direct opposition to the common startup procedure. Born in November 2012 from four former TomTom employees, it was self-funded with an initial capital of 350 thousand euros and was almost immediately granted the WBSO Dutch governmental subsidy, which gave them the opportunity to use resources and equipment of TNO, the famous Dutch research center. “Instead of selling it, we provide our technology in exclusivity to a single partner per market segment”, says Francioni, “We do not make any margin from the development or hardware production costs, which are covered by our partners for cost price. We make money by sharing revenues when the products are sold”. This means that Beestar represents a sort of research and development facility, offering to its partners all necessary know how without the expenses associated to build up an R&D department from scratch. Differently from the usual path taken by startups, Francioni and co. are generally against accelerators. “We participated to an accelerator, but got disenchanted when we understood it was all about getting investments rather than developing the business. That is the reason why, there is a tendency in accelerators to pump startups valuation without any solid economical foundation. Besides, when you get investors on board, you also necessarily end up losing control of the company”, concludes the engineer, “The accelerators only work in connecting startups to the right business people”. Beestar’s formula is the following: “Instead of looking for investors, we made available a small amount of Beestar’s equity exclusively to the mentors that believed in us. So now we have an advisory board of people truly committed to our success, even financially, whom provide counseling on our strategy and useful contacts when needed”. Apparently this is working, since after a year and half from its foundation and upon the launch of the first product, Beestar is worth 4.4 Millions of Euros.
Sure, you say, it is easy to adopt tactics like those when you already have money but projects rise to success primarily thanks to a good brain and the strength to leave one’s country. “In Italy it is the anagraphics that counts. if you are not 45-50 years old, you are out, but here in the Netherlands I managed budgets around 30-40 million Euros already when I was 32 years old, “says Francioni.” A developer here takes on 50,000 euro per year, “echoed Venturelli,” Not to mention the tax relief for expatriates, or the return of half of mortgage’s interest or even the governmental subsidies which enable small companies to access incredibly advanced equipment for a very accessible price”. Just to mention an example, for testing their radio equipment they had access to a RF anechoic chamber covered with radiation absorbent material which normally requires a substantial capital investment into even a modestly dimensioned chamber. Through the TNO, the Dutch government made it available for a negligible hourly rate. This is how the “Made in Italy” loses another occasion. It’s not the first time and unfortunately it won’t be the last.