There comes a time when every installing security contractor has established their core business and are ready to take the next step. Sometimes the next step involves adding a new product to their portfolio, or sometimes they seek to carve out their own niche by offering unique and emerging services or technologies. But finding a security solution that will help an integrator stand out from the pack can be challenging, especially considering the many options to choose from. One technology worth considering is license plate recognition (LPR) systems.
Most integrators are familiar with the concept of LPR technology; however, too often these systems are overlooked as an opportunity to grow business due to certain misconceptions. The truth is that LPR technology is fairly straightforward, requires similar skills to video surveillance installation, and allows integrators significant opportunity to differentiate their offering in a highly-competitive market.
Furthermore, LPR systems easily complement and strengthen end users’ existing security and parking by seamlessly tying into to access control and video surveillance systems. And beyond the obvious, LPR technology has the potential to produce generous returns, enabled by some of the most ingenious applications that improve operational efficiency, boost marketing efforts and reduce liability risks. What does this mean to an integrator? It is also very saleable.
Rudiments of an LPR System
Before dispelling some common fallacies surrounding LPR, let’s first explore the technology itself. LPR systems essentially combine a specialized plate reading camera with highly-advanced software to automatically identify vehicle license plates in a variety of mobile and fixed installations. The LPR camera is one of the most important components of the solution, responsible for recognizing license plates in its field-of-view, capturing context images of the vehicle and its license plate, and processing the image to extract accurate license plate characters using a form of analytics called optical character recognition (OCR).
Immediately following this process, the software compares incoming plate reads against a list of vehicles of interest, also known as a hotlist. A hotlist can range from a list of license plates of permitted vehicles or VIP customers, to ex-employees or wanted and stolen vehicles. If there is a match in the database — or in cases of permitted entry, if there is not a match — the LPR software instantly alerts the operator so they can take action. In mobile installations, where the cameras are affixed to a vehicle, there are actually two components to the software solution.
There is an in-vehicle software component that allows operators to review plate reads or acknowledge hits to the database, tied to a back-office system that allows for further investigation and administrative tasks. Although there is opportunity in mobile applications, such as law enforcement, for apprehending wanted or stolen vehicles, vehicle inventory collection and university or municipal parking enforcement, the installation requirements of mobile LPR is much more specialized.
In fact, installing LPR systems in fixed environments, such as placing LPR cameras on the side of a building or at the entrance of a property, carry far greater opportunity for the security integrator looking to expand their offering. The first reason is that it is a less intensive and resource-dependent undertaking. The second reason is that fixed LPR is a natural add-on to video and access control systems that security integrators already offer.
Some of the traditional fixed applications include general security monitoring of vehicles on or near a property; vehicle access control, where a license plate is matched with permitted vehicle plates for facilitated entry; or revenue control, where license plates are used for payment instead of ticket stubs.
Resolving Erroneous Notions
So even with all these possibilities in fixed installations, why has LPR been overlooked as a niche market simmering with opportunity? Following are the three main misconceptions that have possibly dissuaded even the most eager installing professionals.
Misconception No. 1: LPR technology is far too complicated. This statement cannot be further from the truth. Yes, there is no denying that LPR systems are vastly different than video surveillance, but the installation itself is fairly similar. The specialized LPR cameras need to be properly set up and placed at the right angle to capture the correct field of view; the LPR cameras need to be connected to the network; the client software needs to be installed; and the entire system needs to be configured and tested. In certain instances, some customization or third-party integrations will need to be developed, but these are all tasks and expertise that are required of an integrator when deploying video surveillance or access control.
Clearly, there are certain aspects of the technology that will need to be learned, and specifying the right LPR camera or system can be confusing at first. But this is the case when taking on any new technology as a business offering, and often vendors will provide the necessary training and support to ramp up installers who are willing to promote and sell their solutions.
Misconception 2: LPR is based on analytics, which is not reliable. It might surprise some to know that LPR technology precedes the very first IP-based video surveillance systems. Throughout the past 15 years, huge strides in research and development have been made, to the point where some of the most advanced LPR systems claim up to 99% accuracy on plate reads. However, it is important for an integrator to understand that high read rates and accuracy, in even some of the harshest weather conditions, are only possible with specialized LPR devices.
Unlike standard video or non-LPR cameras that are limited in providing good license plate images due to motion blur or headlight glare, dedicated LPR cameras engineered with multiple levels of integrated illumination to capture crisp images of different plate types and colors, at extremely high speeds and obscure angles. The specialized LPR software can also provide great data mining and reporting tools to help end users get the most out of their systems. They sometimes offer features that let operators search license plate reads based on time, full or partial plates and more.