Automated Number Plate Recognition also known as Number Plate Recognition technology was touted as the magical solution in curbing roads related crimes but that hasn’t always been the case.This is because from a technology point of view, there’s no quick fix for detecting unregistered cars, terrorists, people with outstanding warrants or people who are simply driving too fast or for too long.However, automated number plate recognition technology can help protect major transport hubs and also enable law enforcement and criminal intelligence agencies to identify people and organisations whose attendance at these locations may be unauthorised or suspicious.I wish to focus on how automated number plate recognition work and whether its effective.The automated number plate recognition technology has been around for more than 30 years and is being increasingly embraced by law enforcement agencies around the world as installation and operational costs continue to fall.I visited a vendor who specialises in making automated number plate recognition and for confidential reasons, I won’t share the name as that was part of me being allowed to visit their premises. Automated number plate recognition have high-definition infrared digital cameras that help to illuminate and capture an image or a partial image of the number plate. These typically use pulsed, narrow wavelength retro reflective techniques. A colour image or video of the vehicle would also normally be taken. Some camera systems can take images at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. I was also taken through onboard ruggedised processors capable of handling multiple cameras that use optical character recognition software to convert the taken images to a searchable text string.My host also showed me how a computer server with software to process the request works.In his own explanation, such could be onboard a police van or alternatively be a central server somewhere and even at times both.The latest versions have an inbuilt Wi Fi, 3G and 4G or some other form of high-speed data network to transmit the number of interest, or results from the onboard systems to a central command computer for processing and receipt of information of interest. There’s also a database of known number plates, stolen vehicles, registration details, alerts, status of registered owner and so on. This according to my host can potentially be updated with real time data collected by the vehicles or stationary mounted camera systems.Onboard display in the police vehicle to present the results or beep to indicate that the vehicle is one of interest.
When he started doing the making of automated number plate recognition, the time-frames required to process a plate were somewhat problematic.In the case of a mobile unit, it took time to position the police vehicle, obtain the picture, convert it to text, use an onboard system or send it using a non-terrestrial network service.To this date, that challenge persists but his company has new technology that has solved that.However, in existing systems, coppers need to wait for the computer to search the database and display the results in a meaningful manner.This is a challenge for coppers who are in a high-speed pursuit. He informed me that the increasing business of automated number plate recognition demonstrates his commonly held view that use of the technology is benign and that it has multiple benefits, such as detecting unregistered vehicles, drivers who have breached driving rules or speed limits, or facilitating processing of warrants.The same automated number plate recognition technology is used in a range of applications varying from law enforcement, parking, tollways, congestion charging and average speed calculations.In Scandinavian countries, automated number plate recognition is used to patrol schools and playgrounds to identify potential sexual predators, and set up temporarily at checkpoints to identify drivers with prior drink-driving convictions.However, my host told me over the years optical character recognition has been one of the stumbling blocks for automated number plate recognition technology. Criminals find it hard to obtain the plate because of type of materials used, any avoidance used by the owners, varying fonts,weather, logos, colour, special characters, ambient lighting, condition of the number plate among others.As we wound up, he said that persistent questions about privacy will remain given that the automated number plate recognition technology tracks innocent and guilty alike.Nevertheless, automated number plate recognition is not going to disappear. Indeed, it is quietly becoming a standard feature of streets and highways all over the world.Hopefully, I’ve helped you as reader of this blog to understand how it works.