With the evolution of video surveillance technology in recent years and the vast amount of data that organizations are collecting and storing, there has also been increased interest in the deployment of various analytic applications including license plate recognition software. Although it remains a key tool for law enforcement, the use of LPR technology has expanded to a variety of applications including the collection of tolls on roadways and tracking vehicles when they enter and exit parking garages.
In fact, a report published earlier this year by Research and Markets projected that the global automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) market, which was valued at more than $415 million in 2013, would grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13.5 percent from 2014 to 2020. The anticipated growth in this market segment has not gone unnoticed by some of the larger surveillance vendors in the industry as some look to make LPR solutions a bigger part of their offerings moving forward.
One such company is Pelco, which recently announced that it has integrated PlateSmart Technologies’ LPR software into the latest version of its’ VideoXpert video management systems. Peter Steinke, Pelco’s integration business development manager for the Americas, said that in the past, applications for LPR technology were very limited due to the fact that users had to have a fixed camera and a fixed focal point at a defined distance for the software to be able to do its job, which even then may prove to be unreliable. That has all changed due to advances in both surveillance hardware and software solutions.
“What PlateSmart has is a much better way of seeing and analyzing the tag and differentiating. In the past, you would have a mistake between a ‘G’ and a ‘6’ or a ‘D,’ ‘0’ and an ‘O’ and they have rectified that tremendously with their software,” said Steinke. “We are also seeing that it is not just a crime deterrent or (traffic enforcement) tool. The applications are so vastly unlimited because, in this country, the automobile is king still. No matter how much public transportation is pushed, people still prefer to drive so you’re probably going to see more applications at shopping centers; we have applications at casinos and actually all over the world for this.”
According to PlateSmart CEO John Chigos, the company was founded with the concept of being a software-only, hardware-agnostic LPR solution that could provide enhanced safety for law enforcement officers and the public as a whole. “We developed a product we felt was absolutely necessary because of the rising number of deaths attributed to police officers where they approach a vehicle not knowing who is driving it,” said Chigos.
While they initially focused on the North American market due to the inherent challenges in analyzing U.S. license plates, Chigos said their software has now been adopted by users around the globe.
“U.S. plates are the most difficult plates in the world to read because of simply the vast variety of alphanumeric fonts that are utilized, the plate formats that are utilized, and the sheer number of vanity plates that we face here in the U.S.,” added Chigos. “I think Florida has well over 200 vanity plates at this point, Virginia is approaching close to 400, so the sheer volume of different types of plates demanded a system that was very robust, very adaptable, and very flexible in its capabilities of being able to look at and analyze plates in different regions of the country.”
Chigos said that his goal for PlateSmart has been not only to provide law enforcement with the tools they need to track suspects and enforce traffic violations but to provide users across the spectrum with better security and business intelligence.
“We can gather that information from a license plate; we can give them information in real-time and basically enhance the physical security of premises, facility, or a site of interest by having the ability to know who is coming and who is going through a facility,” said Chigos. “We recently had a client who was contacted by law enforcement asking if an employee had shown up for work yet and they checked the system and the person’s vehicle had not arrived. The minute the vehicle entered the premises, law enforcement was informed… and that’s how quick the system can work.”
While numerous privacy advocates have voiced their opposition to the implementation of LPR technology by law enforcement agencies across the country, Chigos said the fears raised by these groups are unfounded.
“Most people in this country have been misled by the ACLU in the sense that even though law enforcement may capture or utilize data, they are only looking for a specific plate and they are matching it against specific databases. If you happen to pass an LPR camera and your plate is captured, they’re not investigating your plate, it’s not matching up against any of the active databases that they are utilizing so it basically goes into a database of plates that have been captured but are not looked at,” said Chigos. “The public is led to believe that their every move is being tracked, but in reality, the sheer volume of plates prevents that and it is pretty absurd to think law enforcement or any agency is going to spend the time and resources to investigate and look at every single plate so that argument that the ACLU has been trying to push about ‘Big Brother’ is simply not true.”
Despite this, Chigos said that his company is in the process of incorporating safeguards into its platform which will address privacy concerns.
“In order to overcome the current privacy concerns that are out there, we are developing a product suite that provides reassurances that the data generated from these systems is utilized only by the end-user for the purposes that are intended and not utilized for some random reason. Our audit capability which is totally unique in the industry, will allow for the justification for the mass use of LPR,” said Chigos. “The truth is that the more LPR systems that are deployed out there, the greater the chances of us being able to stop a crime from occurring or an act of terrorism from occurring. The genie is out of the bottle in a sense that LPR is here to stay now and there is no way it can be put back in the bottle.”