Smarter vehicle tracking

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 12 September 2015
Smarter vehicle tracking

This article was first published in the Summer 2015 issue of OnWindows

The use of automatic licence plate recognition (ALPR) systems is becoming widespread across cities and towns worldwide.

Broadening out from the public sector and into the private sector, organisations of all types and sizes are now adopting licence plate reading and identification technology to handle a number of scenarios – from the more obvious tasks such as law enforcement and parking management to tracking the arrival of delivery vehicles and customers entering a retail car park. Jean-Pierre Picard, product manager for Genetec AutoVu explains why.

ALPR technology is far more accessible today,” he says. “This has all been made possible by improvements to ALPR cameras. The software has also become far more user friendly. As a result, across a typical city, we’ve really seen an increase in the number of points where independent ALPR systems have been deployed.”

Picard also explains that as ALPR technology has matured, innovation is now coming from software applications designed for specific purposes, and from ecosystems built around leveraging licence plate information for more than detecting wanted vehicles.

Parking enforcement is a great example of where the technology has existed for some time but the applications around it weren’t quite there yet,” he says. “Before, you could use the ALPR system to read the licence plates of vehicles parked in a lot and detect vehicles that had unpaid tickets, but you could not completely move to ALPR-based enforcement. Over the last few years, though, we’ve seen that change; we’ve seen parking managers realise that licence plate recognition could actually streamline operations and provide a better customer experience. This has led to the development of pay by plate, which has now become the go-to approach for managing parking.

This technology has taken off in a number of areas. “It’s being used by manufacturing companies, for example, to track the arrival and departure time of delivery vehicles and automatically record video of loading operations. Before, they would have had to record continuously, manually tracking the time vehicles were docked. Now, with the proper applications complementing the ALPR technology, companies are achieving a greater level of automation, which is leading to major efficiency gains.”

Genetec’s AutoVu ALPR system is designed for both fixed and mobile installations in a variety of applications and aims to make it as easy as possible for law enforcement, municipal and commercial organisations to locate vehicles of interest and enforce parking restrictions.

AutoVu was first built in 1997 – at a time when ALPR technology was just moving beyond bulky fixed cameras – so over time we’ve been able to develop an offering that targets multiple applications in a city environment,” explains Picard. “Take public safety, for example. In this space, you will find some manufacturers that only offer solutions for law enforcement or parking enforcement. We actually have solutions that target all the critical parts of cities’ needs for ALPR – covering both public and private uses. And that’s something that’s only really possible because we’ve been working on ALPR for so long.”

The company also has a full range of licence plate capture solutions and most recently has added a cloud-based application to its portfolio.

Until now we’ve been focused on building dedicated ALPR cameras that are capable of capturing the licence plates of vehicles moving at very high speeds. This new solution, which uses Azure for cloud processing, targets use cases where vehicles are moving at controlled speeds, typically in parking lots, where organisations can’t necessarily afford such a specialised piece of technology, but still see value in ALPR. Now, customers can use a normal security camera and stream video to the cloud for licence plate reading.” 

It is developments like this which Picard believes will lead to an even greater number of ALPR deployments. “The cloud is a game changer, particularly when it comes to helping lower costs,” he says. “In terms of parking enforcement, most of the time you would only see two to three peak hours of activity in a day. Until now, councils would have needed to pay for a system that has the processing power to support these peaks. But, leveraging the cloud, you have the ability to scale up when required and save by not having to pay for excess capacity.

Connecting a city’s ALPR systems while respecting citizen’s privacy brings its own sets of challenges. Genetec’s Federation model ensures shared ALPR data is managed responsibly. “There is tremendous value in being able to follow a vehicle’s path, but each application’s needs are different,” Picard says. “Traffic management doesn’t need to know the actual licence plate of a vehicle to track the travel time between different points, for example.” Genetec’s Federation provides granular controls over which data is shared between partners, enabling new applications while ensuring each organisation’s data management rules are followed and individual information is protected.

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