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Mobile ALPR – How to understand the impact of your options

Joseph Averkamp Joins Neology as Senior Vice President, Business Development and Sales

Luke Normington, Managing Director at Neology

Customers looking to upgrade their investment of mobile ALPR (Automatic License Plate Reader) technology, which they first purchased many years ago, are presented with a broad catalogue of options. With law enforcement agencies having so many options, there can be confusion about what is the right solution for them.

What are my options?

Fundamentally, there are three main options:

  • Legacy mobile ALPR technology – Much of this technology has been in the field for almost 10 years, and a lot has changed in the image processing marketplace during this period. Just think back to the camera you had on your phone 10 years ago to what is available now!
  • Current generation of mobile ALPR technology – Over the last 2 years, there have been launches of new technology from vendors who, in some instances, have been selling ALPR solutions for 20+ years. This deep and rich background from vendors, like Neology, has been accelerated with new, innovative technology in artificial intelligence and machine vision. This innovation has unlocked improved accuracy, broader coverage, and ultimately aids in an improved mission capability. 
  • In-car video (ICV) systems supplemented by ALPR software – There are now “bolt-ons” available to enhance existing ICV capability. This is typically enabled by an annual software cost of between $700-$800 per year, per camera. 

Our focus at Neology is always around customer need, including helping agencies understand the total impact both financially and from a mission/operational perspective. The financial impact is a relatively easy benchmark, and I will come back to that point in a moment. 

How do I measure the mission impact?

An agency investing in mobile ALPR solutions, or ALPR generally, does so with specific intent and mission in mind. When the technology was first introduced, the impact was significant to officers out on patrol. Law enforcement needs were based more around detection than accuracy. The thought was if they at least have an image of the vehicle, they could use it as evidence. Even a misread plate can be useful for investigative purposes. But if the system doesn’t detect the vehicle, the evidence is gone. It was widely accepted the technology was imperfect, and detecting 85-90% of passing vehicles was deemed “good enough” in the early days of ALPR. 

Unfortunately, criminals have become more aware of the technology, its capability, and in some instances have devised cunning tactics to attempt to evade the technology. As suppliers of the technology and collaborating with customers, we are invigorated every day in our merciless pursuit of innovation to make every day a little harder for those criminals on our streets. 

Recently we have been asked about the impact of ICV systems, the appropriateness for ALPR capability, and the relative performance against a dedicated mobile ALPR system. Fortunately, some vendors have been open with the performance and limitations of their own systems, which actually makes this benchmark relatively easy, coupled with some of our own analysis, summarized below:

Relative ALPR mission impact

This is where all factors such as detection accuracy (in all weather conditions, day/night, and typical deployment scenarios) and underlying ALPR recognition accuracy are considered. Some people would call this the “combined ALPR performance.” 

This is particularly a challenge for low light and night time performance as ICV systems with ALPR rely upon direct illumination of the license plate by the patrol vehicle’s headlights. In fact, some vendors cite, “At night, headlight illumination is required. Poorly performing (dim, low, broken) headlights will significantly impact plate capture performance,” in their own guidance. 

The graph below highlights the impact of this point, based on our own night time testing with ICV systems and the quantity of plates that were not illuminated by headlights or appropriate ambient light. 

This excludes the “extreme test,” (i.e., headlights off, discrete locations, etc.) but a typical law enforcement use of mobile ALPR systems where a patrol vehicle is parked on an evening with headlights off, in a discrete location, scanning passing vehicles. In this instance, the mission efficiency is 0% as almost every vehicle is missed!

Current generation of mobile ALPR solutions have a 95% impact rating, meaning that license plates will be detected accurately in all light conditions

What does this mean in practical terms?

Consider with only a 50-55% impact, a mobile ALPR system that may otherwise “see” between 3,500-4,000 vehicles per shift, while an ICV-based ALPR system will only be able to provide the officer insight and data on around 2,000 of those vehicles. This feels like a significant backward step, especially when criminals are already deploying tactics to evade ALPR systems. 

In the North American market, the absence of nationwide, or even state-wide standards with respect to benchmarked ALPR performance means some vendors are willing to put products on the market that are not capable of transforming into repeatable, consistent, real-life application use. 

For example, in some European or Australian states, it is necessary to annually prove performance and calibration standards are being adhered to, ranging from ALPR accuracy performance through to evidential data protocols. This testing includes performance requirements across a range of weather conditions, at night as well as during the day. This needs repeating regularly, at least on a basis to validate consistent performance.

We support customer initiatives that require a broader mobile ALPR capability to supplement their “dedicated” mobile ALPR units and provide greater installation coverage across their fleet. Neology has the ability to provide modular solutions for these types of agency initiatives. For instance, because many agencies are now deploying more compute power in vehicles for a broad range of applications (CAD, etc.), they are able to add mobile ALPR cameras and software from Neology to their existing computers. In these cases, agencies can build on their existing technology investments with advanced solutions in a cost-efficient manner.

What is the financial impact?

Let’s come back to measuring the financial impact of these solution. One of Neology’s customers is deploying a single mobile ALPR camera and associated PAGIS ALPR software onto their own computers, which costs less than $650 per year over a 5-year term.

With this configuration, they are not only getting access to the performance of Neology’s latest mobile ALPR solutions highlighted above, but they are also able to gain network-wide investigative capabilities across their entire ALPR estate when they are connected to their ALPR back-office system where fixed and other mobile ALPR assets are connected. Don’t settle for 55% efficiency when you are searching for a needle in a haystack – your public deserve better, and so do you.

Watch for our next blog in this series where we delve more into more topics around mobile ALPR!