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Your complete guide to understanding ANPR camera solutions

In this guide, we’ll run you through everything you need to know about Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) solutions, including how ANPR works, how ANPR is used and how to find the best ANPR solutions.

What is ANPR?

ANPR stands for Automatic Number Plate Recognition. It’s a camera system that uses technology to read and recognise a vehicle’s license plate automatically, without the need for human involvement.

Automatic Number Plate Recognition can also be referred to as LPR (License Plate Recognition), AVI (Automatic Vehicle Identification), CPR (Car Plate Recognition), or ALPR (Automatic License-Plate Reader).

Over the past few decades, ANPR has played an increasingly important role in vehicle surveillance – which is a highly complex task when all obstacles are considered.

For example, a vehicle’s speed, the variety of fonts and colours present on different license plates, weather conditions, different lighting environments during both day and night, plate material and in some cases, intentional ambiguity from the driver (such as plate damage or coverings), all make it difficult to accurately and consistently recognise number plates.

Though ANPR cameras boast plenty of advantages, the technology has attracted criticism over the years under theories of mass surveillance. More recently, ANPR systems attracted criticism on the grounds of poor online security. In Sheffield, drivers’ privacy was put at risk after an ANPR camera data breach revealed millions of private journeys.

What are ANPR cameras used for?

FTA-VehiclesWeaponsAttacks-20In the UK, ANPR is primarily used to detect, deter and disrupt criminal activity. This can include identifying and locating vehicles that have been stolen, tracking down vehicles are uninsured, and investigating terrorist acts or organised crime.

However, ANPR usage varies from country to country. ANPR can be used for the purposes of law enforcement, speed detection (such as section control, which identifies the speed of a vehicle over longer sections of road, unlike fixed speed cameras, which measure vehicle speed at one given point) , crime deterrence, traffic management and electronic toll collection (which can allow for cashless tolling, thereby streamlining commutes, improving highway efficiency and lowering emissions).

Some day-to-day examples of ANPR’s usefulness include monitoring vehicles which drive away from petrol stations without paying, identifying illegal parking, automatically raising and lowering bollards, and tracking vehicles that run red lights.

How does ANPR work?

Put simply, when a vehicle moves past an ANPR system, its license plate number is deciphered, then cross-checked against a nationwide database of vehicle records. If the vehicle is of interest or in question, police are able to track down the vehicle in question, then if necessary, press charges.

All vehicles which pass an ANPR camera will be recorded in order to keep the database’s remit as wide as possible and up to date, should a vehicle not currently of interest come into question at a later date.

A brief history of ANPR systems

Since ANPR solutions were first established, they have undergone a series of advancements and upgrades, which is why in order to understand how ANPR works, it’s worth taking a look at a history of ANPR.

  • Though the first ANPR-facilitated arrest took place in the UK in 1981 (after a stolen car was detected by an ANPR camera), ANPR solutions were invented in 1976, with early models developed in 1979.
  • In 1993, the London Metropolitan Police implemented the ‘Ring of Steel’ camera network around the City of London – which included ANPR cameras – in a bid to end a series of terrorist bombings conducted by the IRA.
  • In the late 1990s, technology developments meant that ANPR cameras no longer needed to be assigned pre-defined criteria (such as the angles, directions and speeds at which vehicles would be passing at). This allowed fixed-ANPR cameras to become mobile.
  • In 2003, signifying the first large-scale, civic use of ANPR, the London Congestion Charge scheme was created thanks to almost 700 ANPR cameras on every road which enters and exits the Charging Zone.
  • In 2005, ANPR systems were used to solve a murder in Bradford, with the technology playing a crucial part in locating and eventually convicting criminals.

What kind of technology is used in Automatic Number Plate Recognition?

The technology used in ANPR solutions consists of:

  • HD infrared digital cameras
  • Processors which are able to use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to turn captured images into searchable script
  • A computer server with a specific software which is able to process this request
  • Wi-Fi or another high-speed data network to transmit the license plate information
  • A nationwide database of vehicle information, which includes registered license plates and a log of stolen vehicles
  • If the ANPR camera is a ‘point and shoot’ mobile system, it would connect to a display in a police vehicle which signals whether the scanned license plate is of interest

The technology used in ANPR systems is based upon a series of algorithms which help to identify license plates. Generally, these algorithms can be split into four main steps:

  1. Vehicle image capture
  2. Number plate detection
  3. Character segmentation
  4. Character recognition

How ANPR solutions can generate revenue

ANPR systems have generated millions of pounds across Britain in identifying and helping to fine illegal vehicle behaviour, ranging from parking to registration errors. In 2018, after 10.1 billion number plate scans took place, £472 million was generated in fines from 6.96 million penalty tickets.

Of the 114 local councils that use ANPR solutions, the London Borough of Barnet generated the most money from vehicle fines – totalling £38.3 million from almost 550,000 penalties.

ANPR technology has already been used to generate revenue in a variety of creative and innovative ways. These include:

  • ANPR as a marketing analytics solution to identify how many people have seen billboard adverts
  • ANPR as a mode of temporary site access on building sites to prevent theft
  • ANPR as an indicator of speed control at large logistics centres to ensure safety
  • ANPR to permit hotel guests to access parking at night time

ANPR solutions for small site management

Hanwha-ServerlessANPR-20In February 2020, Hanwha Techwin launched what it described as a “highly cost-effective” Serverless ANPR for small site management: “Easy to configure camera-to-camera IP communication technology enables up to 4 Wisenet ANPR cameras, (1 master camera and 3 slaves), to simultaneously capture and transmit data to a convenient user interface.”

With 95% accuracy, the technology is able to recognise license plates of vehicles moving up to 50 km/h – making it ideally placed to provide an affordable solution for car parks, petrol stations and small residential estates with multiple entrances or exits, barriers or roadways.

The product is also able to provide insightful information for the purposes of car park management, such as ‘time spent’ and occupancy rates, but without the price of having to install and run the application on a server, according to Hanwha Techwin.

What do projections show about market growth for ANPR?

In 2019, the ANPR Solutions Market was valued at $1.98 billion, and is forecast to reach $4.12 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 9.58% in the seven years to 2027.

Meanwhile, according to data published in 2019: “The global electronic toll collection systems market is expected to grow to US$ 9.1 billion by 2027 from US$ 5.2 billion in 2017.”

Likewise, the potential for installers to capitalise on ANPR solutions as a new revenue stream is highlighted by recent research published by IHS Markit. The findings indicate that “global market revenues from sales of intelligent ANPR devices are forecast to reach $800m by 2022, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 16.4%.”

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