SpotHero is ready for the future of autonomous parking

SpotHero is not new to the on-demand parking game. It raised $2.5 million in 2012, and another $20 million in Series B funding in 2015. This for a service that allows drivers to prepay for a parking space in a garage via app before the car ever leaves the driveway.

“You can reserve a spot for three hours or three days,” said SpotHero co-founder and CEO Mark Lawrence, “and you can make the reservation for right this minute or in two weeks.” You just scan your phone when you enter the garage and scan it again when you leave. You know where you’re parking and how much you’re going to pay — no driving around and no surprises.

While this is all very convenient today, Lawrence has his sights set on the future of driving, or not driving, as the case may be. Right now, the human interfaces with the phone, which interfaces with the online garage. In the future, the car will take the place of the human to connect with SpotHero, which connects with the garage to reserve and pay for the space.

“It could be an algorithm that says, ‘I need this autonomous pod or car to be stored for x amount of time,’ and it will run some calculations,” Lawrence said in our phone interview. “The algorithm will check to see if it can park farther for cheaper, and take traffic into account.”

The challenge, today and tomorrow, is that the garages have to be online for this to work, whether it’s a human or a car that wants to connect. “Parking facilities have to be online or they’re invisible,” Lawrence said. “They’re not going to be able to capture the largest share unless they’re visible. Let’s get these facilities online and make them available for ecommerce.”

SpotHero has a sales and marketing team tasked with increasing parking companies’ awareness of this source of revenue. The team takes a rising tide lifts all boats approach: “We say, ‘Here are all the interfaces out there; it’s not just SpotHero,'” Lawrence said. The team has to educate the parking companies on the tools available and the scanning and redemption technology required for future-proofing their businesses. “Otherwise, how are they going to communicate with consumers right now and also with cars that drive themselves in the future?”

We dove into the futuristic idea of electric autonomous pods during our conversation, which Lawrence acknowledged is an “angelic view.” Electric cars are more efficient than gasoline, but much of the grid in the United States is still powered by coal, and “there need to be macro changes before EVs on a grand scale are possible,” he said. “But even when the energy issue is solved, parking isn’t going to go away. Cities don’t want empty vehicles just roaming around.”

He’s predicting those futuristic vehicles will need to park themselves when not in use, and SpotHero will be ready to make the connection.