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The future of ALPR technology is here
Today’s police technology is aimed at making an officer’s job easier, safer and more cost-effective. One such technology, License Plate Recognition (LPR), has advanced in the past few years. Most of today’s police vehicles have Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) systems. With the ability to identify license plates and match them to stolen vehicles or drivers with outstanding warrants, officers have a valuable tool in crime fighting.
Basically, ALPR brings together specialized cameras, lighting, optical character recognition and electronic databases to identify license plates, read the characters from them and compare them against a list of license plates of interest. The cameras, mounted on a patrol vehicle’s bumper, lightbar or another fixed point, scan vehicles that come within their view.
With ALPR, the task has been automated and augmented so the officer does not have to look out for wanted plates or vehicles at all. The ALPR system automatically scans every plate within its view and compares it against an internal hotsheet of thousands of plate numbers, immediately notifying the officer when a hit occurs. This technology offers significant time and cost savings for agencies.
Now that the technology is mature and its value recognized, ALPR vendors have added multiple software features that take ALPR well into the future. For example, most vendors have or are adding wireless synchronization solutions. A wireless link can work over the existing wireless data network, but the more common medium is a local Wi-Fi network. Adding GPS information to the recordings of plate scans doesn’t add a lot to the file size, but it makes the data gathered by a mobile ALPR unit far more valuable.
Now is the time to look into acquiring an ALPR system if your agency doesn’t have one. There is grant money available and vendors will assist you with the grant application process. When choosing a vendor, talk to several, talk to their existing customers and make sure you have support available at your location.
Following is a look at some of today’s major players in the ALPR market and their latest offerings.
CitySync was formed in the late 1990s specifically to develop innovative solutions in the field of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). CitySync offers a range of hardware options to suit user needs and preferences, each compatible with the in-house developed software solutions. Different uses of CitySync’s systems include traffic monitoring, building security, crime detection and prevention, parking control and congestion reduction. All hardware is manufactured to CitySync’s specification and quality standards.
CitySync does not sell its products directly to end users—instead it works closely with its approved system integrators, OEMs and distributors. CitySync supports all partners through agreeing system specifications with end-users, assistance with tenders, site surveys and expert user training. CitySync has developed seven new products to suit the needs of the following market sectors: Homeland Security, ITS, Parking and Security.
Designed specifically to be mounted on police vehicles, the JellyBean is an advanced dual ANPR camera (incorporating mono and color overview cameras). Its design discreetly incorporates high-powered infra-red LEDs, and it has a sleek, compact and aerodynamic housing that measures 70(w) x 124 (w) x 140(h) mm. Number plates can be captured at a range of up to 18m from vehicles passing at high speed. The JellyBean can be mounted on a vehicle roof or lightbar facing to the front, rear or side.
JetMobile has an officer-friendly interface which contains large, clearly identified buttons allowing a user to easily interact with the system during vehicle operation. The user-designed touchscreen interface removes the need for a keyboard and allows instant navigation between screen tabs. CitySync ANPR cameras can be unobtrusively installed inside or outside a vehicle. Plates are instantly matched against up to 200 hotlist databases in real time.
JetBOF is a fully functional back office system providing storage, matching and reporting of ANPR data using an industry standard Microsoft SQL server database. It is a fully scalable solution designed to manage large and complex fixed site, in-car and mobile ANPR systems for high-end users such as police, customs and local authorities. JetBOF is capable of receiving, processing and storing millions of reads per day together with its associated plate and overview images or motion video clips. This data can be archived and stored for many years if required.
The JetCam Fox-i Intelligent ANPR camera is designed to save installation costs and deployment time. This compact unit incorporates a High Definition ANPR Camera with on-board infrared illumination and a color overview camera along with a variety of communications options for transmission of results, including 3G/GPRS.
JetJTMS is a modular Journey Time Monitoring System based on CitySync’s accurate Jet Automatic Number Plate Recognition Software. Infrared cameras are positioned at critical nodes around a city or along motorways. These cameras read vehicle license plates in real time as traffic passes. Accurate ANPR processing takes place in the camera or at the roadside, and the data is continuously transmitted back to a central JTMS Server which processes this traffic data and produces accurate, up-to-the-minute journey time data for any set of nodes. This data can then be exported to other traffic management systems.
The JetCam Bollard gives optimum performance for car parks and access control systems 24 hours a day in varying lighting and weather conditions. The new slender stainless-steel housing provides a mounting for the ANPR camera at approximately the same height as front car plates, reducing the issues with line-of-sight problems, such as tailgating or queuing traffic.
CitySync’s R&D team has been developing an advanced vehicle motion detection (VMD) module. Traditional motion detection works by comparing sections of a video and looking for changes between consecutive frames. CitySync’s motion detection method works by looking for horizontal and vertical lines, (which are very distinctive on vehicles) delivering a very robust solution not prone to false positives from changing scene brightness or weather conditions.
CitySync’s JetMobile™ in-vehicle ALPR system was recently implemented by the Lemont, IL Police. One area of concern for the Lemont Police was the rising village sticker debt. According to Chief Shaunessy, “Within two days of deploying the CitySync’s JetMobile System, the Lemont Police had written 54 tickets and recovered $5,970 in unpaid debt.”
CitySync has also been working very closely with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to provide additional hotlist database information for police departments. The Secretary of State (SOS) has provided two CitySync customers with an SOS test database before releasing it to the rest of the world.
The first Illinois department to try out the database was MEATTF, a stolen vehicle task force part of ISP District #11. Gary Brewer, director of MEATTF, said that on the day SOS data went live his team made eight arrests for revoked/suspended driver’s licenses. CitySync’s JetMobile ALPR Software and JellyBean InfraRed Cameras were connected to the police Toughbook computer.
Hub-Data 911’s LPR technology is integrated with its Mobile Digital Video software, which means they can provide LPR for a fraction of what it costs to equip one patrol vehicle with a competitive LPR system. Hub-Data 911’s LPR technology does not require a separate dedicated computer for LPR as other systems do. LPR runs on the same computer as most other in-vehicle applications.
A car equipped with Hub-Data 911’s technology can read more than 1,000 license plates per hour. Read plates can be compared against the pre-loaded databases of priority plates at a rate of 150,000 per second while leaving the CPU available for other tasks such as video processing and CAD. Any hits will alert the officer and can also automatically trigger the Mobile Digital Video to start recording.
Mobile Digital Video
The Mobile Digital Video (MDV) system is Hub-Data9ll’s complete mobile-video capture solution designed for the specific challenges within public safety environments. The system employs a state-of-the-art, Web-based, user-friendly software interface supported by comprehensive server side software.
One of the key features of the MDV is that it is highly configurable to fit agencies’ specific needs. It also provides live streaming video. Users can upload video from a car to command center or remote locations in MPEG-4 or H.264 compression while recording simultaneously. Additional features include: Continuous or Incident-Triggered Video and Audio Capture; Integrated Mapping and Integrated License Plate Capture. The VidNet back-end Web-based system utilizes your GIS agency map, providing real-time vehicle information.
ELSAG North America
ELSAG North America’s Mobile Plate Hunter-900 (MPH-900) ALPR system is now deployed in all 50 states. The MPH-900 is currently in use by more than 400 agencies. It has many applications and has aided in everything from being used as crucial evidence to convict the murderer of a family in Fishkill, NY, to apprehending uninsured vehicles and catching the drivers of vehicles that illegally pass school buses.
Mounted on a police cruiser or in any fixed location, the MPH-900 is a progressive infrared camera capable of scanning the license plates of passing cars in seconds, translating the digital pictures into data, and then cross-referencing that information with databases for wanted drivers and relaying the information to police personnel instantaneously.
When a vehicle comes into the camera’s field of view, a series of images are captured, turned into data by the ELSAG OCR algorithms, and then run against a resident database of wanted plates. This is done up to 2,000 times per minute. The system then returns an alarm to the operator in milliseconds, providing instant feedback and the direction of the suspect vehicle. Audible and visual alarms inform the officer of the vehicle’s location and the infraction related to the alarm.
The MPH-900 allows a police force to query thousands of license plates each day, many more than can be done by manually inputting the data. Each unit is capable of querying 1,500 plate numbers per hour. The system also allows communities to create a “hot list” of vehicles that are being sought in connection with local crimes, and it will be especially useful in the event of an Amber Alert.
Managed by ELSAG’s Operations Center Software suite, ELSAG is currently reading and recording nearly 13.5 million transactions a day. With each of the 4,500 units in use around the world reading roughly 3,000 plates a day, approximately 4 billion plates a year are being processed by ELSAG’s Operations Center.
ELSAG also announced upgrades for its Operations Center that will more efficiently process the data obtained by the numerous MPH-900 systems in the field. The more slender camera is 43% smaller than the existing one, allowing it to be placed alongside or in virtually any lightbar on top of police cruisers. The more accommodating camera will retain the same commanding accuracy that the MPH-900 is known and recognized for across the board. The ability to place the cameras in the lightbar will further enhance ELSAG’s reputation as the leader in flexible mounting systems. With more flexible search capabilities, better imaging and mapping, and most importantly more robust and adaptive data structure, the new Operations Center is ideal for small and large systems.
“This technology has been extremely well-received by law enforcement personnel and citizens in large urban metropolises, mid-size cities and rural towns all across America,” said Mark Windover, president and CEO of ELSAG North America. “Its applications are endless and serve to keep our streets and our citizens safe. We are proud to announce that our technology is being employed nationwide.”
MPH-900 systems have many applications and have not only aided in traffic safety, but intelligence gathering as well. Among other applications, the MPH-900 system has been instrumental in the conviction of murderers, in the apprehension of sex offenders violating parole, in recuperating unpaid taxes and in recovering stolen vehicles.
PIPS Technology/Federal Signal/Motorola
Since 1990, one of the pioneers in ALPR technology has been PIPS Technology, which is now part of the Federal Signal Corp. and a partner with Motorola. PIPS Technology is unique in that it is the only company that designs, manufactures and sells the ALPR system completely in-house.
Tested by the Department of Homeland Security, the PIPS system achieved the highest overall system accuracy rating of 91.7%. DHS showed the ALPR systems 50 plates and counted how many plates it read accurately. The next competitor had 64.6% in overall accuracy.
The PIPS ALPR system uses one to four camera pods per police vehicle. Each camera has an algorithm in it to search for plates called “Plate Finder,” which is a patented PIPS process. The system takes an image of the plate when it sees it. It functions accurately from walking speeds all the way up to highway speeds above 150 mph, even on traffic moving in the other direction.
Infrared illuminators provide a light source for the IR cameras day or night and in almost any weather conditions. The IR LEDs flash at different rates and the camera modifies its shutter speed to give three or more images of a plate at different exposures. Then the computer chooses the best one to send to the processor. This PIPS patented process is called “Triple Flash.”
Motorola and PIPS Technology recently announced an ALPR solution featuring new low-profile digital Slate™ cameras and an ALPR expansion board that fits Motorola MW810 Mobile Workstations, which saves space and eliminates additional hardware costs.
The Slate cameras are the smallest on the market at 7.2 in. x 3.5 in. x 1.6 in. with a weight of 3.3 pounds. This allows for a more stealthy installation and does not block any of the lightbar’s light output.
“Motorola’s license plate recognition solution provides law enforcement with seamless connectivity and access to real-time information using mission critical technology that is second nature,” said Rod Guy, Motorola director of Mobile Computing Operations. “Motorola and PIPS Technology developed a cost-effective and efficient ALPR solution that gives law enforcement an invaluable tool in combating auto theft and other crimes.”
The enhanced complete Motorola ALPR solution includes the new Slate cameras, Motorola’s MW810 Mobile Workstation, the ALPR expansion board for the MW810, PAGIS® in-vehicle software that interoperates with the cameras to capture and read license plates, and BOSS® back-end software that aggregates information from multiple ALPR systems to enhance intelligence capabilities.
The ALPR systems are currently in use by both small and large police departments. “If ALPR is reading license plates, officers can concentrate on other tasks, which helps us protect the public,” said Sargeant Dan Gomez, LAPD, an early adopter of ALPR technology. “What’s great about the new system is its small footprint. With more and more devices installed in police cruisers, the trunk can get pretty packed. We also like the smaller cameras, which are not as obvious and work better when we go around corners.”
The new compact Slate camera is less noticeable and does not interfere with a law enforcement vehicle’s lightbar. The ALPR expansion board is installed into a new or existing MW810, eliminating hardware costs and space constraints associated with the need for a separate ALPR processing unit in a vehicle. The board also supports preprocessing, which optimizes system performance.
“The combination of our industry leading ALPR technology with the power of the Motorola MW810 processor provides the officer unmatched technology performance while significantly reducing the overall equipment deployed in the police vehicle. This is a winning combination that will resonate with the police community,” said Craig Cantrell, vice president and general manager of PIPS Technology Inc.
Motorola’s ALPR mobile application helps enhance the productivity and effectiveness of officers by automatically capturing images of license plates within the camera’s view. The numbers are processed using an optical character recognition engine and are compared against an onboard violations database or hot list. The system alerts an officer if there is a match and provides vehicle information and other preemptive details for appropriate action.
License plates can be automatically read and analyzed every two seconds, which means more than 5,000 plates can be checked in a typical shift. ALPR technology also helps law enforcement maximize revenue from the collection of unpaid parking tickets, licenses and permits as well as identifies stolen vehicles and those connected to criminal activities. Motorola’s enhanced ALPR solution is part of the MOTOA4™ mission critical portfolio of products that offer seamless connectivity between first responders.
AutoVu™ is an LPR solution developed to read vehicle license plates from all over the world. This advanced and rugged solution from Genetec facilitates the vehicle identification process by automating the recognition of vehicle license plates.
AutoVu is used within a variety of fixed and mobile applications, such as wanted vehicle identification, city-wide surveillance, parking enforcement, parking permit control, vehicle inventory, security and access control. End users have the flexibility of installing AutoVu as a standalone LPR system or activating it within the Security Center and taking advantage of Genetec’s next-generation client application for monitoring its LPR system, the Security Desk.
In addition to AutoVu, the Genetec Security Center seamlessly brings together Omnicast IP video surveillance and Synergis IP access control systems within a single innovative solution. Whether installed as a standalone LPR platform or a multi-system platform that includes LPR, access and video, the Security Center’s LPR functionality is powered by AutoVu.
As a comprehensive solution, AutoVu leverages some of the most advanced technologies in LPR. Its superior capabilities provide license plate reading with the highest level of accuracy, and its network-based platform facilitates simplified deployment and configuration, on-board video compression and streaming, ease of reporting, and head-end processing. Below are some of the new features available from Genetec’s innovative IP license plate recognition solution.
The back-office system will automatically generate an alarm for matched license plates, called hits. The alarm is activated based on the data that is transferred from the in-vehicle software to the back-office software in real time. Managers are then aware of officers in the field that have come across a vehicle of interest and may offer support if necessary.
Color, Sound & Priority Assignment
To easily identify the type of hit and its importance, users can configure hotlists so they are associated with specific interface colors, alarm sounds and priorities. This allows the user to quickly interpret the information based on its priority level.
Wildcard Hotlist includes records that have a portion of a license plate number. Witnesses do not always remember full license plates of potential suspects involved in a crime; therefore, the system will alert users of all potential license plate matches, even if the full license plate was not identified. This enables the officer to easily identify suspects that otherwise would not have been detected.
As evident from the ALPR solutions mentioned above, the technology of license plate recognition has evolved through the years. Because most systems are automatic now, officers do not have to take their eyes off the road to punch in or write down a license plate number of a possible suspect. This increases the officer’s safety, as well as his time. In addition, ALPR solutions are able to capture license plates at high rates of speed—another step on the “road” to capturing the bad guys.
Published in Public Safety IT, Sep/Oct 2009
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