It’s quickly become a mainstay of forward-thinking departments and for good reason: it’s an effective force multiplier, and it’s incredibly good at identifying the bad guys. For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of working closely with both the agencies and vendors who continue to push the LPR envelope, and it’s time to take a quick look at some of the newest equipment coming out from some of the major vendors. In each case, I’ve personally talked with high-level executives at each manufacturer. These products are game changers.
Candidly, there’s more to say about each of these companies and their latest offerings than there is room. I strongly encourage you to check out each further. I’m confident you’ll be impressed by the technology.
Up until recently, the mainstay of the Autovu line has been the Sharp camera, a capable device that I’ve had the opportunity to use in the field and have found to be a quality product. The Sharp handles processing right in the camera unit and, while popular for many setups, this pretty much limits it to a two-camera setup because of the way the units connect to power.
The just-released Sharp-X takes a different approach by relying on a sophisticated dedicated processing unit that is highly configurable to meet user need. This allows the Sharp-X to adopt a down-sized form factor, easily the smallest available at this time. The Sharp-X cameras are paired with a ruggedized computer processing unit that assigns one Intel Atom Processor N450 for each camera. This results in an incredibly fast LPR capture system—capable of performing five thousand reads in a single minute.
Although you’ll probably not have the opportunity to fully realize the potential of the unit, the fact that the system can work so quickly means the chance of a missed plate due to processor overload is a thing of the past. The other big improvement with the Sharp-X is the use of a new and more light-sensitive sensor. I’ve seen the photos first-hand and they’re impressive. Whereas many nighttime contextual photos are virtually worthless, the Sharp-X photos make the most of a small amount of ambient light, often rendering usable information in low-light conditions. The size and capabilities of the Sharp-X usher in a new era in LPR.
Elsag North America
The tried-and-true Elsag MPH-900 is on hundreds of patrol cars around the country, and the FPH-900 is the foundation of many fixed installations. I’ve had experience with these units in the field and they’re solid performers. In fact, the MPH-900 was a key player in one of my favorite LPR stories of all time—a ridealong I did with Arizona DPS Officer Dave Callister (check out the story by searching “Callister” on LawOfficer.com). The FPH-900 has recently been updated to draw less power by using fewer components.
Complementing the FPH-900 is the new All-in-One (AIO). The AIO pairs an FPH-900 fixed camera with a small but powerful computer capable of managing a bank of cameras. To accomplish this feat, the AIO uses a solid-state hard drive and 1.33GHz Intel Atom processor, 2-GB flash memory and military-spec connectors. There are three Ethernet ports on the unit, which means a total of four cameras can be supported simultaneously. In real-world application, a single AIO can support the processing needs for four lanes of traffic and do so with a minimal level of power draw.
Of course, data is only valuable if it can be easily accessed, preferably in real time. To meet this challenge, Elsag has introduced the Tactical Operation Center (TOC) which helps manage the overall data operation and is able to simultaneously notify dispatch and other TOC-equipped patrol units when a mobile unit identifies a wanted vehicle. www.Elsagna.com
The latest offering from PIPS, the P392 Spikelet, continues the company’s trend toward smaller and more capable LPR units. The Spikelet provides greater resolution and processing capability, while offering it in a smaller, lighter package that consumes less power. In fact, it’s so power efficient that it’s capable of operating as a completely self-contained solar powered unit. This is a great option for those situations where the lack of power limited the effectiveness of LPR installations.
I’ve had significant experience in dealing with fixed installs and the issues of weight and power consumption are big considerations. If a camera weighs too much, the existing infrastructure may not be adequate and will require costly modifications. If power isn’t available, a generator—which requires regular attention—or moving to a different location are often the only options. The Spikelet has the ability to read multiple plates within a single field of view and provides real-time video triggering. Older systems often ignored paper plates or vehicles with no plates, but the video trigger minimizes that problem. The Spikelet has an internal modem capability or can be outfitted to use WiFi. Bottom line: It’s smaller, lighter, more versatile and flexible.
For the category of “you heard it here first,” I had the opportunity to examine a brand new, not-yet-released PIPS handheld LPR unit during a recent LPR training session in Houston. Based on a Motorola MC75 handheld, the unit may open up a whole new way of using this technology. Stay tuned for more. www.PipsTechnology.com
As more and more departments have realized the value of LPR, there have been increasing demands from the practitioners for options in terms of deployment. Some want the ability to quickly deploy units in a variety of vehicles or settings, and, in this day of “plug and play,” the expectation is that device operation be simple and straightforward. Vigilant has been listening and they’ve rolled out a product package specifically designed to be quickly and reliably deployed.
The new CarDetector Mobile LPR System (CDMS) Mobility Kit comes in a large, ruggedized case and can be ordered with one to four cameras. The kit includes a processor and all relevant cabling. The brain of the unit is a “brick” PC with a Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz processor that runs Windows. The two-camera kit weighs in at less than 38 lbs. and draws only 50 watts pulled through a standard 12-V accessory plug. Designed to provide turn-key operation, the entire setup can be operational in ten minutes, permitting the unit to be easily moved from a marked patrol car to a more covert deployment if desired. All of the components and cables are ruggedized and designed to survive the rigors of a police environment.
Recognizing the value of deployment options, Vigilant is also using the same quality components and integrating them with speed and advisory trailers. This has permitted them to offer capable systems at an attractive price point. Watch for more of these trailer-based deployments as departments realize the challenge of establishing fixed LPR installations. www.VigilantVideo.com
I’ve been asked to keep some secrets, but trust me, there’s more great equipment coming. Smaller, lighter, faster, more light sensitive and more cost effective: all good news for the cops and bad news for the crooks.