Just over twenty years ago, the public debut of the Web began transforming the way millions worked and lived their lives. Recent innovations in social media, mobile technologies, and the cloud have multiplied the pace and directions of change.

Now physical objects and environments are increasingly able to process information through embedded sensors and communication capability, creating an “Internet of Things” in which computing escapes the familiar boundaries of desktops, mobile devices, and local servers.

One real-world example is SFpark, a pilot program in which sensors embedded in the roads and garages of San Francisco transmit where parking is available. The system adjusts parking rates dynamically to reflect the level of demand; prices rise in congested areas and go down in areas with more plentiful parking. Real-time information about the availability and cost of parking is made available via the Web and mobile apps so that drivers can decide ahead of time whether to take public transportation or try finding a space in a low traffic area.

SFpark is testing its system at 7,000 of San Francisco’s 28,800 metered spaces and 12,250 spaces in 15 city-owned parking garages. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Urban Partnership Program pays for 80 percent of the SFpark pilot test.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, since the program took effect in April 2011 the average hourly rate for parking at the SFpark meters has dropped by 14 cents from $2.73 to $2.59.

Bob Fisher is a contributing editor to DesignIntelligence.