License Plate Recognition Technology Branches Out - InformationWeek

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License Plate Recognition Technology Branches Out

Law enforcement officials see new security and surveillance uses for license plate recognition technology.

When Officer Lloyd Johansen pulls his patrol car to the side of the road in Port Richey, Fla., he can file a report on his laptop, get on the radio to HQ, or keep an eye out for seat belt violations.

Running continuously in the background on a laptop while Johansen is multitasking in his patrol car is a license plate recognition (LPR) system from PlateSmart Technologies that captures the plate numbers of all the cars that pass by and instantly returns data on the vehicles from federal, state, and local law enforcement databases.

"I can post up in a stationary position, activate the [LPR] system, and conduct other traffic enforcement, whether for speed measurement or looking for seat belt violations or other civil infractions," Johansen told InformationWeek. "While the system is going on its own, I can even type reports, and it will put an alert on my screen. I'll verify the information, and if everything is valid, I'll make my traffic stop based on the information."

The ability to scan plates constantly and return data quickly can also lead to some surprises. "It can bring your attention to something you might not normally see," he said. "I've come across brand-new vehicles [with infractions] that I wouldn't necessarily pay attention to. I might get [a driver] with a suspended driver's license or a passenger with a warrant."

[Police are asking for help tracking stolen smartphones. See Smartphone Kill Switches Coming, But Critics Cry Foul.]

Johansen and the police department in Port Richey, located about 30 miles north of Clearwater on Florida's west coast, adopted PlateSmart's software-based LPR analytics system in late 2012. Using movable, high-quality color cameras mounted inside the police car, the software-based LPR system's optical character recognition engines provide about 90% accuracy, company officials said.

The system is also super fast. It can search about 2.5 million data points and return critical information to the officer in about 0.7 milliseconds, according to PlateSmart founder and CEO John Chigos.

The open-platform system is hardware agnostic -- it is designed to work with any camera and mesh with third-party software or hardware.

"Since it's integrated into [law enforcement] data hubs that draw down this information, the data is automatically downloaded into the system," Chigos said. "We've combined all that into software. We've created a software package that takes away all the hardware requirements and does it through the software."

The company recently announced the introduction of LPR in a software-as-a-service model that provides greater access and scalability. The cloud-based system doesn't require any onsite installation by the end user. Instead, users supply PlateSmart with license plate images via the Internet, and the data is returned to users for review.

PlateSmart also has launched an enterprise version of the system that is intended to go far beyond law enforcement use in a police car and deploy

Richard W. Walker is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C., area who has been covering issues and trends in government technology for more than 15 years. View Full Bio

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Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
4/17/2014 | 4:57:40 PM
License plates
I'd be curious to know what the law says about the public display of license plates. Because if the police can keep a database of license plates, private entities can too. They may not have the backend that identifies the owner of the plate, but that may not be difficult to determine if facial recognition is added. Perhaps license plates should be considered personal information from a privacy standpoint.
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