Magazine

License Plate Recognition: It’s Grown Far Beyond Airports

By Michael Harlow

Most people in the parking industry have heard about automated license plate recognition (ALPR) to some degree, and they have seen the installations typically within the airport parking scope. Now, that’s all about to change.
ALPR technology has been used for years as an access control function for gated communities, and Visometrix sees the opportunities far beyond that of just parking.
“We had to design our ALPR system to work flawlessly, since it was the only means for a homeowner to enter their gated community,” says Barrington Hilsley, founder of the GateWorks Group company. “We are proud to say that our systems operate some of the finest gated communities in the nation, using our ALPR engine with extremely successful results.”
The newest application is installing the ALPR system in parking garages to thwart poaching parkers and those that validate throughout the day to obtain free parking. Having the ability to track vehicles entering and exiting the facility allows management to keep close watch on repeating violators.
Those vehicles can be flagged in the database, and alerts can be generated based on the frequency of the parker. The system generates a file with location of entry/exit, time, license plate and an overview image. So when confronting violators, you have indisputable proof they are in violation.
The application also can be used as a “soft nesting” feature. If you want your employees to use only one gate to enter/exit, the system can be flagged if the employee enters another location. The applications are almost limitless.
In this day and age of reducing costs, one of the best things about this type of ALPR technology is that there are no consumables to purchase. In a typical access control application, the system owner needs to purchase RFID tags, proximity cards, tokens or other credential devices – all at a cost to the owner and/or passed on to the users.
Since the system reads the license plate, there is nothing more to purchase.
“Another great benefit to the customer is the speed of the system,” Hilsley said. “The system can read plates up to 140 miles per hour (a touch fast to enter a gated community!), so speed is regulated for residents and the gate is opening before they even pass the guardhouse.”
The ALPR system -consists of a low-profile housing with a color overview camera, high-efficiency infrared (IR) illuminating LEDs and a black-and-white license plate capture camera. With the high-powered IR, the camera can see in total darkness for 24-hour operations.
The cameras have a varifocal lens that can be remotely focused with the included software to capture crisp images from 8 feet to 150 feet. The cameras are connected to the robust Visometrix proprietary ALPR software engine, which identifies and processes the plate information in a fraction of a second. The best part is that this system can be fixed or mobile, such as the company’s installations with units of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Because the technology is so versatile, the department uses it as a law enforcement application. At the beginning of a deputy’s shift, all California law enforcement Internet information is sent from the back-office system wirelessly to the patrol vehicle.
Once the database has been transferred, the patrol vehicle has all the latest “hot list” information for that day. As the deputy goes about his regular shift, the ALPR system is constantly reading plates and usually captures up to 6,000 plates a shift. If a stolen, felony warrant, Amber Alert, DUI or other hot list vehicle plate is captured, the system will notify the deputy instantly.
Once the deputy returns from his shift, the information is wirelessly transferred from the vehicle to the back-office computer in a database format.
Data-mining is a great tool with this system as well. If a deputy knows of a suspect plate, he can enter it into the system, and if that plate has been recognized in the past, a history with a map and GPS coordinates shows where that vehicle was last seen and when.
This information works extremely well in access control and parking applications as well.
In relation to law enforcement, security is a major concern in access control applications. Since the cameras are combined in one unit, the color overview camera stream of information can be sent to a digital video recorder (DVR), and the other stream of information can be sent to the ALPR engine for access control and data-mining.
Since all information is time-stamped, if an event happens, the plate information is read by the ALPR engine and captured on the DVR, increasing the evidential trail.
Pricing for ALPR technology has come down considerably in recent years, making it almost as affordable as a standard access control system, without the consumables.
The technology also is scaled down to a rugged handheld license plate inventory (LPI) system with an integrated ALPR engine. This new unit is a true “point, shoot and capture” device that reduces the manual processing of information and can be used in such applications as hotels, parking lots, airports and more.
Having a choice is always a good thing. Having a choice with so many options is even better. Look into the world of automated license plate recognition, and you will be amazed at what you see.
Michael Harlow is Director of Business Development for Visometrix. Contact him at mharlow@visometrix.com.

Article Abstract from July, 2009




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