The Evolution of LPR
November 18, 2020
Some technologies are developed and mature very quickly, reaching their pinnacle almost immediately. While others, through innovation over time, evolve to provide terrific value. In these cases, even though the need is well defined, and the technology is close to being able to provide on all of the touch points of price and performance, it is not quite there. This doesn’t mean that an earlier iteration of the technology didn’t hold great value. It is simply part of the technological growth path of the product.
While LPR has long been in use, recent innovations are making them more accurate, more cost effective, and more valuable in more types of applications.
One useful technology that took a while to mature is the License Plate Recognition (LPR) camera, or perhaps more accurately “optical reader”. LPR, also known as ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition), has been around since 1976, with the first systems being deployed in the UK in 1979. While LPR has long been in use, recent innovations are making them more accurate, more cost effective, and more valuable in more types of applications.
What Is License Plate Recognition or LPR?
Historically, License Plate Readers have been the point of capture for the license plate image. License plate numbers were then extracted by means of Optical Character Recognition (OCR), either within the camera itself or as a part of the back-end software, which would be depended on for further analysis and management of the captured license plate number for reporting and access control. From its advent, this had always been a two-part system comprised of specialty (or now, even standard IP CCTV) cameras for image capture and transmission of that image over to the back-end software that was performed by the OCR.
So, until recently, these systems were often not cost-effective for smaller installations or operations. However, with the advent of all-in-one solutions that eliminated the need for external CPUs to handle the OCR processing, the benefit of these devices is reaching a much broader audience. That audience is designing systems to expand on the usefulness of LPR in parking operations, from simple access or audit control to much more advanced and valuable systems that provide occupancy counts and overstay detection, all the way up to fully integrated guidance and wayfinding systems that can be integrated into traffic management systems to improve traffic flow and ease congestion. It is that versatility and improved performance that is making LPR technology more desirable for a wider installation type and that is exciting for the industry.
What has changed?
The latest LPR cameras are “Edge” devices designed to capture, read, and interpret license plate data (number/state of issue) for stand-alone processing of access control, black-list/white-list processing and reporting. Relocating most of the functionality previously undertaken by the back-end software to within the camera itself makes it a stand-alone access control device.
The benefit of this new “Edge” control device architecture is the elimination of any latency or loss of communication between the device and the software which controls access activation, which ensures immediate gate activations regardless. The “Edge” architecture also allows devices to be seamlessly networked to a cloud-based management application for global updates of access lists and third party sharing of data through an open API to be used for anything from access control to toll-road applications to law enforcement purposes, to…the list goes on.
This new architecture also provides the ability to design systems to be easily scalable as stand-alone subsystems without the requirement for any changes on connected third party systems. In some cases, the camera/control device will also be able to output events in standard protocol format for Parking and Security enabling the device to emulate the data exchange protocol format of a simple card access reader. This allows for the direct connectivity of things like standard access control systems without any specialty programming of the connected system.
Recent advancements in OCR software capabilities from the best LPR providers has included the addition of deep-learning algorithms that are able to continually improve as the system operates. This has led to notable improvement in accuracy for difficult regions such as the United States which has a wide variety of plate types and configurations from with a great many issuing bodies. It is these types of improvements that have opened the way for the use of LPR in the access control arena. Accuracy in law enforcement or any punitive scenario is necessary for success, true but it is also true that inaccuracy is not always immediately evident. When deployed for access control, this is not the case. The failure of an optical reader to validate and admit a valid plate is a noticeable failure of the system that requires some form of intervention. This drives the need for accuracy in these types of installation to be exceedingly high. Consequently, this leap in accuracy has facilitated LPR into becoming more valuable for more advanced parking systems of all complexities.
Selecting the right technology and then ensuring that it is installed properly and in accordance with the manufactures’ guidelines is key to success with LPR. As it is an optical technology, obscured line of sight, obtuse read angles, or poor lighting conditions will impact the performance of any brand of LPR. Working with knowledgeable designers and installers that have a strong knowledge of the parking industry will result in better outcomes, fewer headaches, and a better performing system.
It is also important to remember that not all operations are the same or have the same priorities, so one-size-fits-all solutions usually only fit a few. Working with a knowledgeable system designer will also help ensure that you are selecting the right equipment for the job. Systems that are open to working with a multitude of component types from various manufacturers on open data protocols will be more versatile, robust, and future fit.
They can also ensure that the selected technology will perform the best for your specific installation and budget concerns. There are a great many LPR manufacturers, and quite a few that make high-performing, high-quality products, but each has something they are particularly good at. Trying to assess these characteristics and ensure they are compatible with your system can be a challenge and expert help usually saves money in the long run.
Here to Stay
LPR is not a flash in the pan technology, nor is it any longer only for large entities like state agencies and DOTs. The evolution of this technology to perform at a higher level, in a broader range of conditions, and with a light hardware burden, is opening new opportunities to add value and services at higher levels, for parking owners, operators, and integrators.
If you are considering taking a good look into the marketplace and doing research on the capabilities of various LPR offerings, now is a good time to do so. Manufacturers are innovating all of the time, and there a many strong offerings, so if you are looking to add this technology to your operation, it is also a good idea to seek professional advice on system design with a company that has the specialized experience and insight that parking requires.
Gorm Tuxen is the president/CEO of Tuxen Group and IPsens, LLC and can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org