ANPR to Power the Development of Smart Cities

Automated License plate recognition

Every day, you hear things like smart this and smart that. The term ‘smart’ is often attached to everyday objects or concepts. It emphasizes the connection to technological features that make them stand out. For example, smart fridges have touchscreen displays with recipes, food ordering, and enable audio and video streaming. What if we expand the ‘smart’ concept to an entire city? Can an entire urban area implement tech advancements to improve its efficiency?

What Is a Smart City?

A smart city is a city that uses technology to improve the life of its citizens and the interaction with the urban environment. First, smart cities need to measure all sorts of data through sensors and cameras. For example, cameras can monitor roads and provide info about the traffic flow. Smart cities are about communication, data science, and taking action according to deep learning algorithms.

Automated Plate Number Recognition and Smart Cities

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a crucial technology behind the concept of smart cities. The IoT describes a concept where various objects communicate with each other in a network. We’re talking about cars, cameras, houses, and, of course, fridges. The concept is simple, but the realization is complex. It requires the installation of many devices and many data scientists to make sure everything runs smoothly. A smart city saves time and money. From traffic control to parking automation, everything can be improved using data analytics and data science!

Why ANPR Is Important for Proper Functioning of Smart Cities

An Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) is a computer vision method that can improve the functioning of smart cities. The technology is pretty self-descriptive. It can recognize license plates based on video or images. License plate recognition works in real-time and uses computer vision and deep learning.

The importance of automatic plate number recognition is immense. From smart parking systems to real-time traffic control, license plate recognition has many use cases. It saves both money and time. Due to its applications, automatic plate number recognition has to be precise. Imagine receiving a fine for a traffic violation you didn’t commit because ANPR in charge of traffic control made a mistake!

Examples of ANPR Usages

Here are some examples of how automatic plate number recognition can be used in smart cities:

Parking Automation

Automated parking systems are the most famous use case of ANPR. Suddenly, the need for gates, tickets, and operators decreases. With license plate recognition, drivers can park into their desired space without stopping. The entrance of the parking contains a camera that can recognize plate numbers. The computer vision system scans you on the way in and the way out to precisely measure the time you spent parked.

ANPR for parking automation

Credits: ANPR Automatic License Number Plate Recognition Vehicle Identification LPR System - COMA Group

Different clients can modify this technology according to their needs. If there is a user database, you can apply different rules for parking. For example, some hours can be staff-only, or there can be a discount for registered parking users. There is no end to possible features to exploit using smart parking systems.

Access Control

Some areas have restricted access. License plate recognition can help recognize cars that are allowed to enter a specific zone. The need for human intervention is only needed when a vehicle isn’t recognized. The need for precision, in this case, is immense. Government facilities, for example, need to deny access to any civilians without a permit.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement can also benefit from deep learning and computer vision. When a car passes an ANPR camera, license plate recognition does its thing. The recognized plate number is checked against any vehicles of interest. It includes stolen or abandoned vehicles, and cars belonging to criminal organizations and felons.

ANPR for Law Enforcement

Credits: Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) - NPCC

The benefits of this approach are many. It helps the police target suspects based on their records. Law-abiding citizens can go on uninterrupted, leaving the police with suspicious vehicles. There are both portable and fixed ANPR cameras.

Toll Automation

Traffic jams on a highway mostly occur because of toll stations. Before, there were human operators who gave you tickets and charged you once you get off the pay-per-drive roads. Today, there are automated ticketing systems and payment options. But, the delay is still there, especially if the ticket won’t come out.

ANPR for tall automation

Credits: A Guide to Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) - Bloglovin

Automatic plate number recognition and computer vision can make things simpler by automatically registering users entering a highway. It immediately removes the first barrier of getting the ticket. The only thing that remains is paying once you get off the road. Combining ANPR with online payment solutions can remove this problem as well. This can do wonders for morning and afternoon commutes in many countries!

Transportation Management And Logistics

Companies that deal with logistics can benefit from this technology. ANPR can simplify transportation management by capturing exact moments vehicles leave and arrive at certain areas. There is no need for GPS or calling. A camera will identify the license plate and confirm the arrival. It can prove useful to delivery couriers and logistics companies around the world. Transportation management in these businesses is crucial. Any technology that can simplify or speed things up is more than welcome most of the time.

Challenges of a Global ANPR Solution

First, automatic plate number recognition is a data science application. It uses deep learning and computer vision for license plate recognition. ANPR, much like other AI methods, uses data to train the algorithms and recognize license plate numbers better. Since algorithms are pretty much standard, the data is what determines if your solution will work or not.

A global ANPR solution needs to work in any country. However, all countries have different license plates. Data scientists working on license plate recognition need to provide images and surveillance footage from local sources. In the end, their solution will reap success in one country, but it can’t be used elsewhere because it used local data for training.

Below, you will see different license plates from Europe, where the European Union standardizes certain things. Still, the variance is clear.

European License plates

Credits: Guess the EU Country by License Plate Quiz - Sporcle

An approach to a global ANPR solution would theoretically have to train an algorithm with data from every country in the world. As a consequence, the development would cost more, and the algorithm would be more prone to mistakes. License plates in a single country have a standardized format, making it easier for AI algorithms to recognize them. This is the reason why you shouldn’t rely on open-source solutions for automatic plate number recognition. Sure, they might work well in the developer’s country, but they might not work in your location.

Final Words

Smart cities combined with IoT can change urban life. Imagine a city as a breathing network of interconnected devices, powered by data science. The high level of communication can help resolve quite a few problems. This includes traffic jams, trash can capacity, emergencies, and many more.

Automatic plate number recognition is a technology that could drive the development of smart cities. The use cases are numerous and useful. Parking can now be completely automated, with an ANPR camera scanning you on your way in and out. The same goes for restricted areas, airport operation, and logistics. Paying tolls on a highway can now use ANPR to scan you on your way in, without you having to stop for any reason. Law enforcement can use license plate recognition cameras (portable or fixed) to target suspicious vehicles. This way, law-abiding citizens won’t be stopped randomly and experience delays during their commute.

Global solutions are a problem because of different license plate formats. However, data scientists are working on quality solutions in each country. Smart cities are still a matter of the future, but our world is beginning to shape up like in many futuristic sci-fi movies.

Check out this article to learn more about use cases or ALPR.


Michael Yurushkin

Founder of BroutonLab, PhD