The long line of academic buildings that make up the University at Buffalo North Campus hides one of the campus's most-cited flaws: lack of parking.
Like many of his peers, UB graduate student Atif Faiz Afzal was frustrated with what he calls "the notorious parking situation." He can recall times when circling the parking lots made him late to important meetings or classes. It is a common story – and not just for university students. What sets Afzal apart from the disgruntled masses is that he had a solution.
Enter SweetSpot, an app developed by Afzal and his peers to fill the gaps left by other, less-effective parking apps.
"We’re the solution that people already think exists," Afzal says. While other apps exist that claim to be the solution to parking woes, Afzal found them ineffective. They relied on data inputs from users and couldn't keep up with the real-time changes in parking availability. SweetSpot uses video footage from UB's security cameras to allow for accurate and up-to-date tracking information.
The prototype for SweetSpot won first place at the 2016 University at Buffalo Hackathon. In doing so, it attracted the attention of a UB Blackstone representative who approached the team with the opportunity to grow their software into a business.
Since then, Afzal and his team have been working to create a program capable of deciphering any video footage. It uses a machine-learning algorithm – the same underlying technology used by self-driving cars.
Just this month, SweetSpot won the People's Choice Award at the Bright Buffalo Entrepreneur Expo. The prize comes with $5,000, which Afzal says will be used to patent their software for tracking real-time parking. Anything leftover will be used to develop the software further. Ultimately, they want the program to integrate seamlessly with any security camera.
The team is finishing up UB's Summer Sandbox program and will be looking to work with other business incubators.
Afzal knows what's next – to "develop a highly secure architecture to integrate security cameras.
"We are working closely with UB police and security camera companies to help us with this integration."