PALO ALTO (CBS News) — On crowded city streets, few things are more hated than parking tickets. That has made 19-year-old Joshua Browder a bit of a hero to thousands of drivers.
“Almost overnight it went from 40 people — which I was very proud of — to a few thousand, and then it just built up from there,” Browder said.
He’s talking about his website, DoNotPay.co.uk, which uses artificial intelligence to beat parking tickets. In his case, necessity was the mother of invention.
“After about the fourth ticket, my parents said to me, ‘You’re on your own, we’re not going to help you out anymore.’ And I didn’t have the money to pay for these tickets,” Browder said.
What he did have was computer programming skills he began learning when he was just a kid — skills he used to create a robot lawyer, also known as a “bot.”
“The way it works is the bot asks a few questions about your ticket. For example, it will say, ‘Were the signs easy to understand?’ … And once it finds out the issue from those responses it takes down a few details and then places all of these details into a challenge letter which is sent to the local authorities,” Browder said.
Browder, who just finished his freshman year at Stanford, launched DoNotPay last September in England. It has already saved drivers an estimated $4 to $5 million. He says more than 60 percent of users there have gotten tickets dismissed.
Now he’s come to the aid of U.S. drivers, starting with New York City, where he says even a minor mistake on the ticket can get it tossed.
“For example, if they say the car is red instead of green, that’s very clear cut and that will get the ticket dismissed,” Browder said.
He sees it as a public service and says bots can do a lot of good, especially for people with limited resources.
“One of my projects is expanding the technology to assist asylum seekers — Syrian refugees in the U.K. The way it will work is the bot will have to understand Arabic inputs and produce documents in English and also answers to their questions back in Arabic,” Browder said.
Browder has no plans to charge for any of his products and does not sell advertising.
“The fact that I can do something that nobody else is doing, even if it’s free, and helps a lot of people is really gratifying for me,” he said. “If there are perhaps other ways to make money, then I’m not against that.”
DoNotPay has gained the attention of billionaire tech investor Mark Cuban, but he’s already turned down some big money offers. Instead, Browder is focusing on expanding DoNotPay to other cities.
“I think if anyone puts their mind to it, they can do it,” Browder said.