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Licensed to drive business: LPR simmering with opportunity

s_bocking.jpgIn the realm of analytics, there are lots of technologies for lots of applications. One interesting form of analytics is licence plate recognition (LPR). Although not too many integrators specialize in LPR systems, those who are investing resources to learn its functions and applications are carving a niche out of this up-and-coming technology.

April 19, 2010  By Steve Bocking

There are two parts to LPR: the act of reading the plates and the act of comparing the plate reads to a database. The latter distinguishes different applications including scofflaw and wanted vehicle identification, parking permit enforcement, vehicle inventory and access control. The reading portion actually involves three sequential actions: identifying a licence plate in an image by looking for rectangles; once identified, segmenting the alphanumeric characters; and lastly, using optical character recognition (OCR) to read the characters on the plate. This complex process is optimised with specialised infrared LPR cameras and backend software for the management of the plate reads.

Ideally the LPR software is integrated with a video management system (VMS) or can be added as a module to the client’s existing VMS. This will allow the LPR system to index reads with correlated video footage for further verification and investigation. Now, what kind of applications can LPR be used for? Even though LPR cameras can be mounted on vehicles for mobile applications, for the sake of the article, I will only focus on fixed applications.

The most common applications are “hot and cold” lists for vehicles of interest. For example, a maritime port authority may have a list of vehicles they suspect of engaging in criminal activity. Therefore, they can set up a fixed LPR system at the entrance of their property. If a vehicle of interest nears or enters the premises, an alarm will be triggered in their CCTV control station, showing a colour image of the identified vehicle, and its licence plate, and even prompting the actual video footage of the driver and the car.

Another application is using LPR to augment access control to a parking area. In a paid-parking lot with a gate and ticketing system, LPR can be used as an additional credential that would be matched alongside the ticket number in the database. That way, if an individual loses his ticket, the licence plate can be used to identify at what time he entered the parking facility and bill the appropriate period of time, avoiding ticket fraud. By adding an LPR camera to the exit, the record of the licence plate can also be used to determine at what time the vehicle exited and with indexed video footage, the system can help solve stolen vehicles cases.


Another application is vehicle inventory for lots where cars are often moved around such as car rental dealerships. The database can be used to check-in and check-out cars from an area and keep track of inventory levels. LPR can also be used to augment security at a gate by integrating with a card-based access control system for extra validation of vehicle’s permission to enter.

With many different applications, including more that were not mentioned here, LPR technology creates endless possibilities to integrators who want to diversify their offering and leverage a niche. Staying ahead of the competition means the time to specialize is now.

Steve Bocking can be reached at sbocking@genetec.com

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