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High school student develops parking app in Grand Rapids

The Spotter app could change the way we park
Vishnu Mano
Posted at 5:53 AM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 08:56:01-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — What were you doing your sophomore year of high school? It's safe to say that most of us weren't programming or creating apps that provide real solutions. But a GRPS student is already doing great things that may someday change the way drivers find a parking spot.

Vishnu Mano remembers trying to attend a Griffins game with his family several years ago, but they couldn’t find a parking spot in time. At the moment, he says, he didn’t have a solution, but it was a problem he wanted to solve, since it affected him personally.

He got that opportunity with an assignment — at City High Middle School, all sophomores are required to take on a year-long project and write a report about it. He chose to work on Spotter, his own app that helps drivers find a parking spot.

It was a huge undertaking; even his teachers asked if he wanted to put his grade on the line.

But, he says, “I've been programming since fourth grade and I've always had an interest in programming, embedded systems or microcontrollers so I’ve been messing around with this stuff for a long time.”

He was basically starting from scratch. There wasn't anything like this that he could find anywhere.

But by the end of the year he had a crude prototype setup built on top of an iPhone case with what he calls ragtag parts. The app was just a square that was red if the spot was taken and green if it the parking spot was available.

Today that prototype has turned into so much more. As part of the school project, he pitched the idea around town.

"Mobile GR actually responded to me and said, 'OK, we'd love to hear your pitch,'" he said. "After I pitched the idea to the people, Mr. Justin Kimura and Mr. Colin Cooper agreed to take me on as an intern kind of under their wing the entire summer, then I was here at the ramp, working on Spotter.”

After more trial and error, Vishnu has working units up at the Ottawa-Fulton parking ramp. It consists of two main components: the app, which the drivers interact with, and the device that’s installed in the parking spot.

In each of the 3-D printed cases, there is a microcontroller and an ultrasonic sensor with a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter emits an ultrasonic wave and if the wave is bounced back by a car, it should reach the receiver. The microcontroller sends the data to a server every five seconds, so this is all happening in real time.

Vishnu says this is a fully commercial product, ready to use, and he can produce them. Now he just needs opportunity.

"We're hopefully looking for places like Ellis parking, the airport or other ramps in the city of Grand Rapids to kind of reach out and ask for the system," Vishnu said. "We'd be willing to demo the system; you know do a trial floor, where we just show the entire system working on one floor and then build up from there.”

After Vishnu started this project, it turned into more than just a tool of convenience. He says 18.6 billion gallons of carbon dioxide is emitted every year just in parking. So, the more efficient and effective you can make the parking experience, the better it is for the environment.

If you would like to learn more about the Spotter app, you can check out Vishnu's YouTube. If you're interested in testing out the Spotter app, you can contact him at