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Hoboken, NJ vs. Giant Parking Robot 379

markwalling writes "Wired News is running a story about Hoboken, New Jersey's battles with robotic parking. A legal battle over the license had shut down the garage, essentially trapping hundreds of cars inside. Bill Coats has recommended that the parking garage be run off open source software: 'Vendees are going to become more sophisticated in the deals they enter into.' Coats even sees this as a driver of open source software. 'If you can get (open source software) you can't be shut down.' But that's harder to do in highly custom applications."
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Hoboken, NJ vs. Giant Parking Robot

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  • Another great example for adopting F/OSS. Somene get on this. CARS WANT TO BE FREE!
    • by NewKimAll ( 923422 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:33PM (#15867200)
      Actually, I don't see this as an Open Source issue at all. I see this as bad coding, plain and simple. Why not just make it impossible to add vehicles to the garage when the license expires? That way, you can still retrieve the vehicles from the garage. Sounds like an obvious solution to me without affecting the "innocent". Would you park your car in any garage by this company knowing that they don't give a damn if your car gets stuck over a license dispute?
      An elevator can only go up and down, but the Wonkavator can go sideways and slantways and longways and backways... and squareways and front ways and any other ways that you can think of.
      • by jridley ( 9305 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @01:04PM (#15867559)
        What you're describing is not an example of bad coding, it's a bad design. We don't know what happened there for real. I've been involved with systems where the vendor could call in to the machine and add/remove features or disable the system depending on what the user was paying for. If that's in the design, then the coding could have been perfect.
        • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @02:42PM (#15868495)
          ...not an example of bad coding, it's a bad design...

          I'd say it's a rather good design - for the vendor. What gives them more leverage, an empty garage or a garage full of trapped vehicles?

          Ahh... Capitalism.

      • by Sketch ( 2817 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @01:09PM (#15867612) Homepage
        > I see this as bad coding, plain and simple. Why not just make it impossible to add vehicles to the garage when the license expires? ...because a bunch of people who can't use their cars at all are going to put a lot more pressure on the lot owner to resolve the situation quickly than those who just need to find a new place to park.

        I don't think it's bad coding at all. Evil maybe, since it's certainly not the car owner's fault, but not bad coding.
      • Actually, I don't see this as an Open Source issue at all. I see this as bad coding, plain and simple.

        Not just that. It's more a matter of signing a bad contract. Why did the city sign a contract for subscription software licensing? Did the vendor not offer a perpetual license plus maintenance and support? You know if the software stops working, the whole garage becomes a useless pile of junk, right?

        Let's compare this to a more mature but similar product, elevators. Elevators are controlled by computers too

      • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @02:51PM (#15868556) Homepage Journal
        I see this as bad coding, plain and simple.

        Bad coding means you run into trouble you didn't expect.

        Creating trouble deliberately doesn't fall into this category. A worm that erases your hard disk is not automatically badly coded; it may be exemplary from a technical standpoint, just morally reprehensible.

        In this case, it's ignorance on the city's part (they should know better), and stupidity on the vendor's part (they may never sell another system again). A smart vendor would give the customer a grace period, at least long enough to get people's cars off, possibly long enough to let the entire system be replaced. Only a profoundly foolish person lets his customers fail under any circumstance -- at least if he plans to stay in business.

        If your software fails horribly, but you bend over backwards to help the customer, even if he's kicking you out, you walk out of the situation with your reputation for integrity and decency intact. And you need that reputation.

        This is what I say over and over and over about open source vs. proprietary. Let's set aside ideology for a minute and talk pure pragmatism. When you "buy" proprietary software, you don't buy it, you license it under the vendor's terms. This is a very obvious and practical point that seems to get missed in discussions of software "wanting to be free" or whether a bunch of apparently people (of whom it is strongly implied are likely to be grungy, pot smoking hippies) can stand up to my gold plated world class proprietary development team.

        Put another way, when you "buy" proprietary software, it's like getting married to the vendor. You'd better have complete confidence in the vendor, or a damned good pre-nup agreement.

  • Not really (Score:4, Insightful)

    by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy@AAAtpno ... inus threevowels> on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:04PM (#15866850) Homepage
    Coats even sees this as a driver of open source software. 'If you can get (open source software) you can't be shut down.' But that's harder to do in highly custom applications."

    Er...BECAUSE it's open source, it's easier to customize. That's one of the major selling points.

    Maybe someone missed that memo.

    Subject change; This company is based in Clearwater, FL. Anybody else get a sneaking suspicion that this has something to do with scientology?
    • Re:Not really (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:08PM (#15866900)

      Not to mention that the more custom it is, the more similar the proprietary and open-source development methods become. If the software is completely custom, paying an open-source developer to do it is exactly the same as paying a proprietary developer. The only difference is who gets what rights at the end.

      • Re:Not really (Score:5, Insightful)

        by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:27PM (#15867113)
        In this case, open source software is completely irrelevant. Hoboken paid for a company to build the garage, install all of the hardware and the software. Hoboken didn't write software, or buy software from some company other than the one with the tech to set up the garage. They bought the package from this company, and the company uses proprietary software. Hoboken couldn't use their own software even if they wanted to. Saying that "open source" software would help in a situation like this is about as relevant as saying that if the city's citizens only used flying cars, then this situation wouldn't happen.
      • Sig says: DRM 'manages access' in the same way that jail 'manages freedom.'

        I've seen this sig on a lot of threads, but never have I seen it be so incredibly insightful and appropriate as at this moment.

      • Except it isn't (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @01:38PM (#15867903) Journal
        Let me give you a practical metaphor for it all. Let's say that Joe Average is fresh out of college, got his new job, and needs a home. So his options are buy a home, or rent a home. Buying it costs waay too much, but Joe can rent a decent home for, say, $1000 per month. So he rents it, pays his $1000 for the first month, and moves in. The first month goes by and Joe decides "wth, I already have the house, why should I keep paying for it?" So he refuses to pay for the next month. He even calls the cops to escort the landlord out, when said landlord tries to negotiate getting his money, and proceeds to sue the landlord and paint him as a monster to the media. Only a monster could extort another $1000 out of Joe, under such threats as kicking him out of his home, obviously.

        Do you get the idea that Joe is a complete cretin by now? Does it invoke thoughts along the lines of, "nobody can be _that_ stupid, dude. Everyone would know it doesn't work that way," perchance?

        Because that's a literal analogy for what those guys tried to do with the robotics software. What Joe in my example does with the house, the municipality official did with the software. Literally.

        The municipality basically _could_ have paid to develop the software and the garage from scratch (F/OSS or not), but I'd bet that it would have been a lot more expensive, took longer, and ran a non-zero risk of ending up over-budget and dragging for years past the deadline, leaving you with a garage that doesn't work. And I really mean a _lot_ longer, because you also have to thoroughly test it, review the code, etc, to be sure it doesn't do something extremely stupid. (E.g., you don't want it to malfunction and move an elevator while a car is only half-way in it, destroying the car in the process.) At that point, you can probably have it GPL'ed or whatever, since you paid for it from scratch.

        Or you could do what they did, and buy an _almost_ off-the-shelf solution for a fraction of the price. (Yes, it's not "off the shelf" in the sense of buying it at Wal Mart like you could buy a copy of Office, but still, an existing solution. Or at least something that only needs some small changes, as opposed to starting from scratch.) At which point, you get to take whatever the heck license you can get for those money.

        Furthermore, presumably to save some money, they only rented that software for X years. Then when the deadline went, the municipality basically thought "muahahaha, why pay some more when we already have the software? Look at all the money we could save by running the software without a license. Let's shaft the developpers instead." And they even literally call the cops to kick the developper's employees off the premises.

        Which, sorry, is just unethical and stupid. I can't feel any empathy for them in that kind of situation.

        Furthermore, then when the software stopped working without a valid license, they tried to villify the developpers in the media, as well as drag them to court. As if they had some sacred/constitutional right to run a garage with stolen software, and the developpers were such monsters to deny them this opportunity.

        Does it sound like complete slimeballs by now? Because it sure as heck does to me. Imagine that someone ignores your license (GPL or whatever floats your boat), and then they sue _you_, and try to paint _you_ as some monster to the media for trying to enforce your license. That kind of complete sleazeballs.
        • Re:Except it isn't (Score:4, Insightful)

          by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @02:00PM (#15868132)

          Err... I was speaking in the general sense, so I don't see what your "Except it isn't" is replying to.

          And anyway, I don't disagree -- I was just pointing out the same thing you did: if Hoboken had been smart and actually bought the software (or specified that it should be open-source) in the first place instead of renting it, they wouldn't be having this problem now.

        • So lets keep going with your analogy.

          Joe rents his house. It has a garage. One day, when I'm over at Joe's new place, I leave my car in his garage for a few days. Joe says its OK. I even pay him in beers for letting me park it there. All is well.

          Then Joe's landlord evicts him and changes all the locks on the doors, including the garage. Later on, I arrive at the house, only to find it locked up and my car still inside. When I ask Joe about this, he referrs me to the landlord.

          So I go to the landlord, and ask to be able to retrieve my car. The landlord refuses. When pressed on this matter he goes on and on about his property rights, waving his deed to the property about in front of everyone declaring that he is under no obligation to open any door on his property for anyone. It's his door. Joe was only leasing it from him, and now that Joe's gone, he's not opening it without payment from Joe. Joe's not paying.

          You can see that the landlords property rights are conflicting with my own. If he has his way, he can essentially annex my car using his property rights. I can't get my car out without breaking the law, and any court I go to will take months to reach a judgement, and will end up costing me more than the car. I'm better off paying whatever extortion the landlord demands.

          Now, instead of the Landlords property rights, what we're seeing here is one companies intellectual property rights being held over the actual property rights of people whos cars are being held to ransom. Robotic Parking have stolen the cars of the people who parked in the garage and are using them to extort the city of Hoboken. If I tried this, I'd get ten, maybe fifteen years. If a software company tries it, they'll get a big fat payoff.

          There is nothing those car owners can do. They have no rights whatsoever, and will not be getting their property back until two third parties agree, which may take weeks. They can't even protest. The city is too well protected. The company is too well protected. The garage design makes it impossible for them to organise and remove the cars. Robotic Parking has accomplished what the French could never dream of realising. The mob has been made impotent.
    • Yes. Xenu has souls trapped at a garage in Hoboken, New Jersey.

      That's why the buff male aliens tried to banish the hot female aliens using the Continuum Transfunctioner in "Dude, Where's My Car?".
    • I imagine the IP to develop a fully functional system would cost alot of time and money to produce. What would be the benefit of of F/OSS? Think of the impliations. Make a mistake while modifying the code and you can really fsck things up badly.

      The benefit of F/OSS code to most organiztions is not that they can modify the code. Do you think Hoboken employs alot of Linux hackers capable of fixing something as complex as this system appears to be? And in a reasonable amount of time? Nah, the benefit is th
      • Why would they have to have open source hackers in Hoboken? Couldn't they just hire another, unrelated company to work on the software? They might take some time getting used to the software, but if they have a big enough dispute with the original company that they got the software from that could still be worthwhile.
      • Your falsly equating open source with Linux and Hackers. Either way whenever a company hires someone to develop a mission critical custom application the contact should be for the source code and all rights as well. It might cost you a little more upfront but it will save you loads of hassles in the long term.

        This issue on the other hand sounds a bit more interesting. Seems the city reached a deal with a startup who wanted to create automatic car garages and other robotics. The city basically said, ok you
        • Your falsly equating open source with Linux and Hackers

          Sorry, I was using "Hacker" in the sense of higly creative and knowlegable people who make/modify things, such as coders. Not in the criminal sense. I had hoped qualifying "hackers" with "Linux", that would be apparent.
    • Re:Not really (Score:3, Interesting)

      Yes, but the code also isn't likely to exist yet. So you are going to have to hire someone to write it. And then they own the code (depending on your contract), and may not open-source it.

      Or there may be one proprietary software house with code for your situation, but no open source code. In which case it is cheaper in the short term (and less risky) to just buy a licence to their code.

      Remember: the more rent the programmer can charge you the more money they can make. So, if there is a company with a sm
      • Yes, but the code also isn't likely to exist yet. So you are going to have to hire someone to write it. And then they own the code (depending on your contract), and may not open-source it.

        If you are hiring someone to write code for you, you could have the contract such that, they have rights to the code AND you receive your copy of the finished code under a open source license. I think that ends up being a win/win situation.
    • Re:Not really (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bacon Bits ( 926911 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:24PM (#15867075)

      "Coats even sees this as a driver of open source software. 'If you can get (open source software) you can't be shut down.' But that's harder to do in highly custom applications.""

      Er...BECAUSE it's open source, it's easier to customize. That's one of the major selling points.

      No, you misconstrued his point. He's not saying it's harder to customize open source apps, he's saying it's harder to get highly customized apps under an open source model. Companies that spend lots of time and monel developing the highly customized software might be less inclined to make it OSS since it gives them (the developers) very little benefit in exchange for exposing a highly valuable codebase.

  • by MECC ( 8478 ) * on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:06PM (#15866877)
    FTP:the city of Hoboken had police escort the Robotic employees from the premises

    Isn't it the robots usually escorting the humans from the building...?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Isn't it the robots usually escorting the humans from the building...?

      We are the pusher police, we have come to save you from the terrible secrets of parking?
  • What?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by maan ( 21073 ) * on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:09PM (#15866913)
    This is a serious contender in the most non-understandable posts on slashdot ever. Aren't you supposed to be able to understand what it's about without reading the linked article?

  • by Cherveny ( 647444 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:10PM (#15866918) Homepage
    'If you can get (open source software) you can't be shut down.'
    What about patent lawsuits? (I'd assume there must be patents somewhere out there on systems like this. There are patents on everything else these days.)
    • by Migraineman ( 632203 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:46PM (#15867352)
      The Robotic Parking website has some very agressive language [] (middle and bottom of page) that summarizes as "You will license this from us." I wouldn't purchase such a thing with these terms. When I purchase an item from the patent holder, I obtain explicit permission to use the item - mainly because I paid the patent holder. A patent is intended to level the playing field with regard to big and small manufacturers, not to allow a manufacturer to extort money from his customers. If I purchase your patented Widget {TM} (c) [Pat. Pend.], once the sale is complete I may grind it into a fine powder should I choose to do so. Your patent does not extend into dictating *how* I may use the product that I now own.

      If the City of Hoboken got a purchase discount in exchange for Robo-Parking getting a piece of the action, that's a completely different contractual arrangement. Regardless, this contract is stinky. The elected officials who signed this turd need to be un-elected (and possibly punished.)
      • Pretty much. I question why the City of Hoboken ever involved themselves with these people. It sounds like a real boondoggle; you assumedly pay for the garage/machinery, but then once you get it, you can't operate it yourself, you have to agree to let them come and "manage" the whole thing for you, forever.

        And what do you do if they decide to raise their rates? You're S.O.L. -- if you don't like what they're going to charge you to manage your robotic garage, then your garage magically stops working.

        It's lik
  • by mekkab ( 133181 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:11PM (#15866924) Homepage Journal
    Wait, let me get this straight. Local government has the police escort the company agents off the premesis because negotiations broke down. Basically, they figured "we already have the garage, so we don't need you any more. Bye, losers!"

    And then complains because it breaks?

    • Yes, the way the article is written, that's exactly what it sounds like. However, they mention a "contract dispute", without providing any real details. The situation could have possibly been something along the lines of the contract expired, and the company wanted to jack their rates by 5000%, forcing the city to operate the garage at a financial loss, or not at all.

      Without question, the city should have given greater consideration to the terms of the contract, but the motivations of all parties involve
  • It should be easier to get the source to highly customized software. I mean, what's going to happen if I download the robot garage software? I'm not about to start competing with them.

    You would think the major cost would be building the actual garage. Not writing the software to run it.
  • by knightmad ( 931578 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:12PM (#15866943)
    I, for one, welcome our closed source car trapping Giant Robots overlords
  • by what about ( 730877 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:12PM (#15866944) Homepage

    Substitute cars with documents and "robotic parking lot" with DRM and you have the same result.

    Do we really want to be held up for ransom by some company that has locked our data into their container ?

    See also this article where vital information is held up if you do not pay... the point is that it is my data, not somebody else data !!!! as if since I put some money in the bank then the bank can refuse to give my money back or to stop moving to another bank. (I hope I am not giving new ideas to banks here...)

    The article on locking medical data is here []

    • There's a simple solution. Don't enter into that contract. You don't want some company holding your documents hostage because you used their DRM software? Then don't use it. No whining required.

    • The point of this post is in the subject, but I have to write a message body. Thus the following:

      Gigantic baboons
      Cereal spoons
      Philosopher kings
      The moon in June
      Disney cartoons
      The morning sun
      Jeff Koons
    • My wife used to work for a photocopy sales/repair shop that also did document management / archival. They would take 5+ year old medical file and store them at a tremendus expense. THEN they would charge somethink like $1 a page min $10 to people who needed their old medical records, people would be paying hundreds of dollars sometimes because they couldn't just sort through and find which pages they needed. (And no my wife wasn't in on this, she disagreed but the boss was a jerk, she didn't work there very
  • Thievery (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by eno2001 ( 527078 )
    $5500 a month? For software to manage the garage? That's roberry, plain and simple. And not only that, but robbery of a public organization that is likely not too well funded. When it somes down to brass tacks, this $5500 fee was cooked up arbitrarily by the Robotic. That works out to $66,000 a year. They could pay their own devel to make software to keep that place running AND add new functionality as needed as long as the hardware specs are available (which you know they aren't). Considering that a
    • NOT Thievery. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:27PM (#15867117)
      You get what you negotiate.

      Like the garage itself, this software company has costs, too. There are wages, benefits, a building, taxes, and everything else that a business needs to survive.

      It matters not if the city can afford it-- they agreed to it, then threw the guys out. Now it's a matter for civil litigation.

      Who needs to be responsible for this gaffe? The city attorneys. I'll be I know what law school they went to, too.

    • Re:Thievery (Score:4, Informative)

      by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:31PM (#15867169)
      The fee was decided in arbitration after the city apparently thought they could pull a fast one on a contract they had agreed to and ended up shooting themselves in the foot.
    • Re:Thievery (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mccrew ( 62494 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:34PM (#15867201)
      $5500 a month? For software to manage the garage? That's roberry, plain and simple. ... That works out to $66,000 a year."

      That does not sound unreasonable. Thought it would depend on how big the garage is, how many cars per day, and the daily parking rate, $5500/month actually sounds rather inexpensive to me. To your other point, you would be hard pressed to find a full-time developer for $66K (fully burdened- including salary, health plan, sick days, 401k, etc.).

      It's more than just development cost - think of the testing required. Because this is dealing with automobiles, which are most folks' second most valuable asset, the system has to be extremely reliable. That reliablity doesn't just happen. It requires planning, coding, testing to a much higher degree than the latest open source mp3 ripper. It doesn't necessarily come cheap. A vendor must be able to recoup its costs and make a profit, or else you won't get innovative solutions like this anymore.

    • Re:Thievery (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:34PM (#15867202)
      $5500 a month? For software to manage the garage? That's roberry, plain and simple.

      Based on what? Do you know if they charged anything for the software up front? Perhaps the operators of the garage preferred to consider the software as part of their monthly overhead instead of as a large up-front purchase. And most likely they get some sort of NON-billed support time as part of that monthly tab. There's probably some other services tangled up in that, too - like off-site backups and mirroring.

      When it somes down to brass tacks, this $5500 fee was cooked up arbitrarily by the Robotic.

      What, but, say... $2500 would not have been arbitrary? How do you know that their closest competition isn't very close in price because of the costs and the business model? Do you consider your salary or hourly rate to be arbitrary?

      That works out to $66,000 a year. They could pay their own devel to make software to keep that place running AND add new functionality as needed

      No way. Not even close. Unless you're saying that $66k would pay for ALL of the overhead of keeping that person around. Salary. Benefits. Infrastructure. Dev platform. Backups. Documentation. And if so, the net take-home for a person whose entire overhead is $66k would be about $25k, tops. Is that the person that you think is going to be able to live in the mid-Atlantic area and, with good worldly experience, be trusted to keep that system in good shape, let along change it? Even if you could hire such a person for so little, why on earth would they stay? And then you have the cost of training and replacing and retaining someone else. $66k doesn't even come close.

      don't think it's not cost effective to have in-house development in this case.

      Start factoring in the disruptive costs of losing/firing someone, of mitigating risk so that only one person isn't dealing with the code that moves cars around and deals with people's money, and I think that's actually exactly wrong. I say this from the perspective of having been on both ends of buying/providing coding and integration services, and of being a consultant on projects before, during, and after all of this stuff finally gets looked at (by the end users) with a rational eye. There's more to it than you think.
    • that's about enough to pay a single competent developer full-time. or two (incompetent and/or young) ones.
    • How many years do you think it will take to develope this software? $66,000 is at most 6 months of developer time probably closer to 3 months.
    • Re:Thievery (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Miamicanes ( 730264 )
      Actually, the $5500 probably DID go to pay the salary of a full-time employee whose main/only job was to write the software for the city's garage.

      It's hard to criticize the fee without knowing the other facts, since it probably WOULD be semi-justified during the first few years of operation when the software were under constant refinement by an employee working mainly on their garage... but it would be downright immoral if they expected to be raking in $5,500/month 30, 40, and 50 years from now as well. Tha
    • Re:Thievery (Score:4, Informative)

      by cdrudge ( 68377 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:45PM (#15867326) Homepage
      Presuming a 30-month, there are 720 hours in that month. NJ state mimimum wage goes up to 7.15 on Oct 1st. At that rate, that's A 24-hour a day parking attendant would cost 5148. $5500 a month in software developer fees was just paid for by the former attendant.
    • Re:Thievery (Score:4, Interesting)

      by GalacticCmdr ( 944723 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @01:26PM (#15867794)
      $5500 a month? For software to manage the garage? That's roberry, plain and simple. And not only that, but robbery of a public organization that is likely not too well funded. When it somes down to brass tacks, this $5500 fee was cooked up arbitrarily by the Robotic. That works out to $66,000 a year. They could pay their own devel to make software to keep that place running AND add new functionality as needed as long as the hardware specs are available (which you know they aren't). Considering that a standard parking lot to house as many cars would require more land and probably some staffing that get paid minimum wage, I don't think it's not cost effective to have in-house development in this case.

      Actually that is not that bad at all - considering all of the costs involved in this type of application. These are not simple routines when you take into account that you are tracking re-occuring vehicles and the time they are typically added/removed so that you can least-time the largest number of vehicles. That is some major simulation time for least-time under varying changes (non-standard days, repairs, etc.).

      I spent just over a year as a contractor on a team doing this sort of work for a parts warehouse in OH. They had this huge automated system of lifts and trucks that would move parts around as needs. As workers would add or remove parts they scanned in the bin they were going into or taken out from - bins could be mixed parts. In fact the stockers job was to make sure that the bins were as close to 1 bin = 1 job station as they could (but they could really put the parts anywhere they wanted).

      The company that bought this thing was on a 5-year lease-to-buy for the software and control hardware. They elevators, automated carts, etc. they owned outright. Thus after 5 years the company had a single buyout cost in order to own the software outfight, but leaving the development company with a perputual licence to the code based upon the revision they bought (thus we could not go back and snag any changes they made after they bought it out - and vice versa) - it was essentially forked at that point.

      It was an interesting system that actually (as a side effect) really closed down on employee theft, since the storage boxes were sealed until they were scanned by people putting in or taking out. They were also weighed before they were racked - since each rack could only hold so much. Tracking down missing parts was pretty easy since everything was logged as to who opened what boxes and the weight change. There were ways to get away with things, but it made theft a hassle and pin-pointed it to a small group of people.

  • Bait and switch! Bait and switch! It could have at least thrown a few cars around and eaten somebody, but no!

    Tokyo was never attacked by a software license, I'll bet.
  • by zerOnIne ( 128186 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:15PM (#15866979) Homepage
    I initially read the title of the article as "Hoboken Ninja vs. Giant Parking Robot", which would have made a much more interesting story than the actual article. Who cares about legal battles? Give me real ultimate power!
  • by GuruBuckaroo ( 833982 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:20PM (#15867033) Homepage
    Am I the only one seeing the lack of distinction here? There are open source apps you still have to pay to use, aren't there? And if you fail to pay, you lose your right to use the software, no? Just a nit-pick, I suppose, but just because it's open source doesn't mean it's public domain. Come on, guys, why am I of all people (a Windows Systems Admin) the first one to point this out?
    • except in this case the vendor put time- bombs in the code to cause it to cease working. That's possible in open source code too, but in a pinch you can whack that stuff out of the code, perhaps in violation of your license (If Sun wrote open source code for a robotic Java(tm) garage that's about the kind of crap they'd pull too)
    • There are open source apps you still have to pay to use, aren't there?

      Not strictly, no. If you had an open source app that you charged for, all someone would have to do is pay you then give it away for free. Sure, you might end up with a client base that is 100% "like hell I'm giving away this thing I paid for for free", but someone ripped those millions of mp3s floating around p2p.
      • If you had an open source app that you charged for, all someone would have to do is pay you then give it away for free.

        False. All "open source" means is that you can see the source code. It does not necessarily mean that you also have the rights to modify and redistribute it. Microsoft's "shared source" license is an example of this.

        If you do have those rights, it's not just "open source" but also "Free Software" (which is why it's important to make a distinction between the two terms).

  • I'm rooting for the giant parking parking robot. (joke)
  • ..this time the issue had nothing to do with the drivers.
  • by Chacham ( 981 ) *
    *punches buttons*

    I am now telling the software company _exactly_ what it can do with a lifetime supply of chocalate.

    The insanity is driving me crazy.
  • "Especially in cases of vital infrastructure, like hospitals and power utilities, an overly restrictive license might not hold up in court."

    I enjoy contemplating the possibility that the COO of Robotic Parking might need to undergo surgery using the latest technology...

    "Well, Mrs. Clarke, the bad news is that due to a software license dispute our robotic prostate surgery machine has just stopped working right in the middle of your husband's operation... but the good news is, the overly restrictive license m
  • by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:31PM (#15867165)
    Assuming the cars were trapped because the software recognized its license had expired and refused to operate (as opposed to merely being fragile and needing constant tweaking and babysitting by Robotic Parking staff), this was an INCREDIBLY stupid stunt to pull.

    Absolutely, positively NOBODY with a gram of sanity is going to want to do business with them going forward. Smart move, guys.

    The SMART way to timebomb the software (if it truly had to be done) would have been to program a soft landing... enabling the removal of cars already in the garage without restriction, and maybe even allowing new cars to be parked, but adding progressively longer delays (with obvious system messages, like "Delaying for 90 seconds due to software license expiration") to give the garage's owners time to digest the situation and react. Progressively annoying someone into action is one thing... holding them ransom with a metaphorical gun to their head is another matter entirely. I wouldn't be HAPPY with the former, but I'd be positively OUTRAGED over the latter.
    • I agree that the *nice* thing to do would be to allow any cars to be retrieved, even past deadline... but OTOH holding cars hostage is a very good way to put a little pressure on the people that might be undecided as whether or not to renew the license. ethics vs. business...
      • by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:53PM (#15867434)
        Well, I'd argue that it became immoral the moment it dragged innocent bystanders (the people who parked their cars) into the crossfire and turned them into collateral damage.

        If one of the cars' owners flew down to Florida and was arrested for destroying the CEO's car with a baseball bat, this is the kind of case where the prosecutor would have to legally try to bind and gag the defense in court so they couldn't let the jury know WHY the defendant destroyed the CEO's car... because if they did, no jury in America would convict him or her, even if it were beyond doubt that the facts of the case indicated that he did, in fact, break the law.
    "It- it's right here!"
  • We must build a bigger, more powerful robot. Mainly by combining smaller robots that will form into one large one, one capable of taking on this car stealing giant parking garage robot.

    That's right - we need Voltron.

    Form blazing sword!
  • Clause 5, Subsection a: Under no circumstance must you take away a human's SUV ...
  • Caveat Emptor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Phat_Tony ( 661117 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:50PM (#15867404)
    Yeah, open source is great and would have solved this problem, but the root of this problem isn't closed source software, it's an insanely stupid purchasing agreement on the part of Hoboken Government. The Wired article talked about open source and legislative remedies, but they nailed the solution to this problem with two words: buyer beware.

    If Hoboken had the "Robotic employees" [glad "Robotic was capitalized there] escorted off the premises, presumably Hoboken owns this garage. They must have spent lord knows how much money to build this state-of-the-art robot parking garage they own, and then they plan to indefinitely lease the software by the month, and of course the whole thing is worse than worthless without it.

    Who would buy something under those terms? I can't imagine making a major investment where someone else is in complete control of it and gets to re-bill me whatever they want whenever they want or else the whole thing becomes useless.

    I don't know what Robotic's terms with their other customers are, but it makes sense to run this the way most things are run- either let Robotic build and run the whole thing, or else pay for the whole thing (including software) and own it all. Don't buy all of it but one critical, irreplaceable part, which you rent.

    Sure, there are lots of people who get service contracts from the manufacturer and such, but there are generally alternate vendors available for these. This is like buying a car, and then leasing the copy-proof key for it from the dealer.

    Their new deal is for just under $200,000 to lease a piece of software for three years. I don't know how complex this software is, and it's used in an application where it's critical that it not be buggy, but I bet there are a lot of programmers here who would love to develop a project they could lease to each user for $66,000/year, without ever actually selling a license. Especially if it would ruin the user's multi-million dollar investment if they ever stopped paying for the license.
  • Forget about the licensing costs... how about the poor slobs who had to to pay for three days of parking in greater NY at the daily rate. Ouch.
  • I would no recommend going OS for a system that prone to critical failures, like large automated parking systems, for number of reasons:

    1) Liability - any failure is at large your responsibility, developers can be knowingly negligent and not be liable in any way
    2) Support - you OS product might not have any support, if it does its costs are not fixed and you have to tie part of your budget into emergency and contingency funds
    3) Standard compliance - forget ISO or any safety/regulations compliance
  • ...highlight this example to launch a campaign to get laws passed that create liability for harm inflicted by software timebombs like this. Sure, sure, software companies may be entitled to compensation for uses of their software beyond the license, but if their time bomb inflicts greater harms than the compensation for which they would be entitled, then the compensation ought to flow the other way.

    People have legal remedies in cases like this; they should not be permitted to use them as an excuse for cyb

  • by Jozer99 ( 693146 )
    Come back next week for your car! I'm recompiling the kernel to add support for XGL! This garage would be SOOO much cooler of cars were transparent and made litte ripply effects when they moved! It would be almost like real life!
  • by allankim ( 558661 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @01:52PM (#15868053)

    From ws-0/1154154297217660.xml&coll=3 []

    Patrick Ricciardi, the city's information technology officer, who took over at the garage after Robotics left, said codes used to operate several dozen components were inexplicably changed overnight.

    Workers then had to manually reassign numbers to each module because Robotics did not leave a manual behind.

    "This is usually done through the computer, but since we don't have a manual, we can't do it that way," Ricciardi said.

    Dennis Clarke, general manager of Robotics, said the city has no right to an operating manual.

    "If you own the copyright, you have a right to use it," Clarke said. "They are not entitled to our source codes. This is very critical proprietary information covered under contract law and intellectual properties."

    Hmmm, sounds like someone has been taking lessons from Darl McBride ...

    And from 91&dept_id=523585&newsid=16980856&PAG=461&rfi=9 []

    When the 916 Garden St. Garage - a unique automatic facility - opened in Oct. 2002, it was years late and already millions of dollars over budget.

    Problems during construction created deeply embedded professional, legal, and personal animosity between the city and Robotic Parking. The city blamed Robotic for the delays, while Robotic blamed the city and another contractor.

    Since the opening, there have been highly publicized problems at the garage. Two vehicles were totaled after they fell inside the garage. In October, 2005, Corea posted a letter to patrons warning that if they decide to keep using the automated garage, they would "have to accept the fact that there may be many future delays."

    Robotic counters that Corea is overstating any malfunctions as part of a smear campaign against Robotic. Clarke said that the garage has a "reliability rating of 99.99 percent" and that the garage had been down less than total of 30 hours since it has opened. ...

    The HPU's current contract with Robotic Parking is $23,250. Corea told the council that on June 22, Robotic officials made a demand to increase the fee to $27,900 per month, which the City Council has said that it will not accept. Robotic contended that a $4,650 is a reasonable moderate monthly increase.

    I guess 99.99% reliability means only one in 10,000 cars gets totaled.

  • This is stupid (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bokmann ( 323771 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @01:55PM (#15868086) Homepage
    This isn't an open source issue, this isn't a coding issue, this isn't even a technology issue. This is a contract issue, plain and simple.

    The Government should have written their proposal to build the garage and the accompanying contract so that they own code that runs the system. This would also allow them to have it peer reviewed by others without a vested interest in anything other than a successful peer review.

    This isn't an open source issue either... While that would give the government agencies access to the code in question, it isn't like armies of engineers are going to be contributing code back to the project (although I guess it is possible). In fact, (at least in my experience with Federal Government contracting), such source code would be considered in the 'public domain', and accessible via a Freedom of Information Act request.
  • by MrCopilot ( 871878 ) on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @04:06PM (#15869165) Homepage Journal
    My money is on Hoboken.

    Can you believe these freakin robots Tony?

    I dunno Frankie, Robot that big, must have huge balls.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.