Words | Sílvia Vilanova, Quercus Technologies, Spain
As published in Intertraffic World Magazine
The deployment of new technologies that contribute to parking automation is increasing. As cities continue to grow – both in terms of inhabitants and the number of vehicles – the integration of parking into smart mobility and smart city concepts is becoming a necessity. Several industry reports point out that 30% of the global congestion level is due to vehicles searching for a parking space.
Automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) has also evolved and gained more ground in order to respond to the emerging needs of the parking industry. However, the growing market demand has also led to the presence of a wide choice of license plate recognition solutions, some of them with limited reliability due to their narrow capabilities. Limitations range from hardware and software solutions that have not been designed to cope with changing or adverse light conditions, to solutions that cannot provide optimum results as they are not equipped with the advanced computer vision algorithms that recognize specific states or areas within a certain country (in the USA or UAE, for example).
If we take into account the high and growing parking-related revenue figures in the parking sector, we can easily understand that the ALPR industry cannot accept poor or merely ‘acceptable’ results.
Smart payment applications
Payment applications are a clear example of situations where the highest level of ALPR accuracy is required. New business models are emerging in the parking environment and concepts such as ticketless payment require consolidated and highly reliable solutions that make sure the technology responds to what is expected.
Ticketless applications use ALPR as the sole means of linking the entry and exit movements of vehicles with their corresponding parking fee. When a vehicle enters the parking lot, the ALPR units capture its license plate and store it in the parking management system database until the vehicle leaves. Before returning to the vehicle, the driver has to go to a pay station, type in the license plate and make the payment. When he drives to the exit, the boom gate will automatically open as the license plate of the vehicle has been recognized and the system has checked that the correct payment has been made.
Ticketless parking eliminates the need for printed paper tickets, contributes to better traffic flow at entrances and exits, and enhances the user experience. Payment can also be made by mobile. In this case, the user can manage his stay in the parking lot directly from his cell phone – for example, he can add extra parking time, or check how much time he still has from the initial time paid. The only vehicle identification required for this practical payment application is the license plate.
In addition to ticketless payment, other ALPR-based payment methods are successfully in use. One example is the online prebooking service that is often used for airport parking facilities. With this method, the gates automatically open upon entry or exit and the parking fee is charged through the payment method chosen during the online prebooking.
Another practical application is a subscription service to a group of parking lots. Subscribers simply log their vehicle license plate into the system and no longer have to worry about payment via pay stations or manual systems. When they get to one of the parking lots, their license plate is identified and they can automatically enter or exit. After their stay, the parking fee corresponding to time spent in the parking lot is directly billed from their bank account.
Advanced ALPR capabilities
Systems integrators, operators, parking owners, drivers and other stakeholders involved in the parking chain are becoming increasingly demanding. Quercus Technologies – with its extensive experience in the computer vision market and strong R&D innovation team – is continuously improving the intelligence embedded in its in-house OCR (optical character recognition) technology, as well as its hardware specifically designed for ALPR.
The latest version of the Quercus SmartLPR Access ALPR unit includes new advanced recognition algorithms for the most demanding of applications. With its latest motorized ALPR unit, Quercus has increased the intelligence process that is used to extract license plate information. This provides the best image contrast for OCR processing and enables recognition algorithms to provide very high recognition rates. Computer vision hardware and software algorithms are also combined to minimize external obstacles, or to recognize the state or country of color-coded license plates, where necessary.
Furthermore, the new motorized SmartLPRAccess comes with web-based configuration hardware, which can be set up and remotely controlled through its motorized lens, reducing the costs of installation and maintenance. The unit also features practical functions such as a video feed of images that can be streamed in real time in parking control rooms.
Smart city parking
In the past it was thought that the reliability rates provided by ALPR units were more important in the traffic environment than in parking, especially in terms of enforcement. However, present issues such as the growing competition of stakeholders in the parking sector, new trends in payment applications, and the importance of parking lots within smart cities, require a paradigm shift regarding the level of exigency to provide technologies such as license plate recognition.
If we observe what is happening to mobility in cities and we listen to the needs of all stakeholders in the parking sector, we will understand why parking (r)evolution is a reality in many cities or should be a reality in others. ALPR is a reliable tool that participates and contribuyes to that (r)evolution on all levels.
Quercus Technologies manufactures and markets smart vehicle detection units based on advanced computer vision algorithms, which aim at improving mobility and security in parking facilities.
Quercus products are based on highly technological computer vision algorithms and include All-in-One license plate recognition units, overview cameras and digital video recorders. We market our LPR units exclusively to system integrators and one of our aims is to help them get the maximum benefit from our products and contribute to the success of their projects. Quercus provides customers with added-value services such as certicate professional training and on-site technical support to help them to get the most of our leading edge technology.