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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Pave the way to a smart city with vehicle recognition technology

When it comes to smart cities, many leaders struggle with where to start. The options can be overwhelming, with political, financial and technical challenges too often curbing progress. But, as the World Economic Forum pointed out, a bundle of small projects that ladder up to a larger aggregate system can be an accessible approach to modernizing smart city infrastructure.

One technology already likely installed that can pave the way for cities transitioning core services to smart models -- and it may come as a surprise -- is license plate and vehicle recognition technology.

The evolution of vehicle recognition technology and the shift to roadway intelligence

Vehicle recognition is often associated with ticketing and tolls, but the technology can serve as a central hub for many smart city services. By using their existing cameras, cities can leverage vehicle recognition technology data to power improved services and increase revenue recovery.

Today, almost any IP-enabled camera can be turned into a multipurpose roadway monitoring device. As vehicles travel through a city, these cameras scan and seamlessly capture information including plate numbers as well as the vehicle color, make, model, body type and direction of travel. Artificial intelligence can then fuel analysis for decision-making across multiple agency-specific missions including policing, traffic monitoring, parking management and environmental improvement. 

As cities integrate these use cases, countless opportunities open up for more efficient government services and improved quality of life. Let’s take a look at just five.

1. Reducing crime and improving public safety

These newer, cost-efficient technologies are already helping police departments finesse their suspect engagement policies, reduce crime and improve community safety.

Moving beyond simply reading license plate characters, today’s smart camera systems automatically scan moving vehicles for plates on a hotlist -- easing the identification of stolen vehicles, apprehension of criminals and restitution for victims. When a match is identified, police officers receive an alert and image of the tag and the rear of the vehicle via a web-based portal they can view from their squad car. Dispatchers receive the same alert, and a strategic plan for safely engaging the suspect can be developed. Even without a known plate, officers can search for vehicles of interest based on its features and state of origin.

A notable success story is the Mt. Juliet Police Department, which has uncovered thousands of dollars’ worth of property and apprehended numerous criminal suspects through this approach to smart city policing.

Advanced vehicle recognition systems can also bolster public safety initiatives. By detecting if a vehicle is driving the wrong way on city roadways, traveling at a dangerous speed or the subject of a criminal investigation or AMBER/Silver alert, life-saving data can be put in the hands of city officials and citizens in near-real-time. 

2. Building smarter, intelligent roadway networks

The state of the nation’s highways plays a huge part in the quality of life of urban residents and visitors. With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, it’s also one of the most pressing challenges that transit officials must tackle.

City planning departments typically pay a third-party vendor to evaluate the performance of their transportation network and calculate how efficiently traffic is moving. These static, point-in-time traffic studies, however, don’t account for evolving traffic conditions. With smart cameras deployed around a city though, planners can conduct these studies on their own and on a continuous basis. Using the same cameras that the police department uses, they can count vehicle totals, analyze congestion patterns and generate detailed traffic reports -- all from a single hub. From here, they can quickly make real-time, data-driven decisions about how best to manage traffic flow across the city. 

That same data can also inform future roadway improvements. Information about the volume of vehicles transiting an area over time coupled with detailed vehicle data (including gross tonnage) gives planners valued insight into future improvement strategies including resurfacing projects, lights and signals.

3. Greening city transportation links

A smarter future also means a greener future. A smart camera connected to a centralized data analysis system can interpret vehicle emission levels based on the characteristics of each vehicle on the roads –powerful data that can be used to design policy and infrastructure to reduce air pollution.

These innovations also help cities prepare for the growing demand for electric vehicles. Smart city planners can analyze the real-world movement of electric vehicles (and their charging behavior) and use these insights to determine where to install charging stations and, in the case of solar powered chargers, even what time of day to activate them.

4. Converging smart parking with smart city initiatives

Smart parking also paves the way for smart cities. Real-time intelligence gleaned from cameras installed in garages and parking areas can be put to work quickly and cost effectively to optimize antiquated parking management and enforcement workflows, making it easier for agencies to close revenue gaps, maximize staff resources and improve visitor experience.

Vehicle recognition technology can identify vehicles as they enter a parking facility. Frictionless integrations with back-end systems then set-in motion any number of actions including verifying prepaid and monthly parking and streamlining the handling of permit issuance, payments, reporting, citations and more. In fact, cities are already realizing 80-130% increase in citation enforcement efficiency.

For locations without existing infrastructure, even the camera on a parking attendant’s or property owner’s mobile device can be used to compare vehicles entering a parking facility against white or blacklists. Data captured can also be used to create strategies to optimize occupancy planning and management.

5. Revenue recovery

The other aspect that makes today’s vehicle recognition systems so valuable is that they can help cities generate revenue.

The pandemic has hit state and local revenues hard. As consumers’ habits have changed and consumption has fallen, revenues have declined sharply. The Brookings Institution predicts a state and local revenue shortfall of $155 billion in 2020 and $167 billion in 2021. Fortunately, advanced vehicle recognition systems can inform and enable multiple revenue recovery practices including congestion pricing, parking citation collection and vehicle licensing, registration and insurance compliance.

Kick starting a smart city vision

Vehicle recognition technology (and consequently, roadway intelligence) can help cities to kick start their smart city vision.

Whether data is captured by law enforcement, the department of transportation or parking managers,  that information can be securely shared across the smart city to facilitate further process optimization over time and lasting improvements, regardless of systems. 

By harnessing the power of an ever-growing network of connected devices and the insights from big data and real-time intelligence, smart city planners can keep pushing innovation and improving the lives of residents. Whether it’s getting people across cities efficiently and safely or assisting in the apprehension of criminals, the co-evolution of vehicle recognition technology and AI promises a bright future.

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