At first glance

Galloping technological progress means that we are able to innovate constantly and make everyday life easier and safer, thanks in particular to ALPR applications by Martin Leclercq, Automatic Systems, Belgium

Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) is a control method using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology on images taken by video cameras specially designed for these applications. Invented in 1976, this method has consistently evolved and expanded. Today, these detection systems are capable of capturing images of vehicles travelling at speeds of up to 250 km/h.

When the camera photographs a licence plate, an algorithm identifies the various alphanumeric characters present on the plate. This information is recorded in real time and will be identified and processed in a database. According to the specific market and sector, this prompts the initiation of precise actions such as geolocation, vehicle control or even permission or denial of access to a site. In terms of applications, this market for licence plate recognition technology is showing strong growth.

A question of cost-effectiveness

According to an IHS study, the market for ALPR systems is set to reach over $800 million in 2018. Motorways and off-street parking are the sectors investing the most in ALPR technologies.

It is in the motorways sector, estimated at $3 billion in 2013, that the use of ALPR systems is most prolific and this is where the strongest growth is expected in future years. The off-street parking market is still at the early stages of implementing ALPR technology, but the outlook is highly encouraging. With an estimated annual growth rate of 9.4% between 2012 and 2017 for the off-street parking sector, this technology has enormous application potential.

Privatisation in the motorways and off-street parking sectors, together with drastically reduced government financing for them in mature markets (essentially in Western Europe and the United States) have contributed in recent years to the popularity of ALPR and the associated technological advances, in a drive for cost-effectiveness.

This technology not only helps to reduce congestion but also makes it possible for the user to pay by subscription (passes), thereby avoiding problems associated with the loss of toll and car park tickets. But it also provides improved 24/7 surveillance, for example against vehicle theft or fraudulent practices such as tailgating. This offers more effective information management while minimising the equipment required, in order to increase return on investment.

The technological challenges of tomorrow

It would be inconceivable that poor camera quality or poor image processing to cause a loss of revenue.

One of the key focuses for improving the cost-effectiveness of this system, therefore, is technological. This means camera refinements so as to enhance resolution, minimise blurred images, compensate for poor lighting or adjust to natural light, but also the miniaturisation of camera components. This is coupled with perfecting the algorithms used, supporting the recognition of a greater range of characters and licence plate types and also enhancing the rate and reliability of the information recorded.

The last focus for progress is around the physical on-site integration of this equipment. Today, cameras are mounted within special boxes or on poles, where they are exposed to harsh weather conditions and vandalism. In some cases, it is not possible to obtain a plate image of sufficiently reliable resolution due to the on-site position of the camera. All this contributes to increasing the cost of the equipment. The trend for the future is the integration of these electronic components within a robust housing that already exists: the barrier itself.

Smart integration within the barrier

Physical access control remains a fundamental functionality in traffic management and Automatic Systems has fully understood the customer's trio of demands: the discretion and aesthetic appearance of the system, superior performance and reduced overall cost.  The solution proposed is the mechanical and electronic integration of these cameras within the barrier housing. This reduces component costs and minimises structural work while at the same time enhancing the reliability of pictures taken at very close range, in addition to fraud detection. All these improvements are brought about through integration work performed in partnership with the camera manufacturers.

The latest generation of Automatic Systems barriers (ParkPlus & TollPlus) not only delivers all of the above functionalities but also allows dialogue with these systems via various XML/RPC or ModBus communication protocols. With its 50-year-plus experience and with over 100,000 barriers installed worldwide, the company's confirmed strategy is to design and produce reliable barriers that meet market needs. Automatic Systems is constantly improving the performance of its products and unfailingly rises to the challenges it encounters.

Automatic Systems is the world leader in the automation of secure entrance control, designs and manufactures pedestrian, vehicle and passenger access systems since 1969. The company has a global presence with subsidiaries in Europe, Asia and North America, as well as a vast international network of distributors. Currently, there are more than 90 million daily users of Automatic Systems equipment worldwide. Automatic Systems is a subsidiary of the Bolloré Group.

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