A Force To Be Reckoned With
As Thinking Highways celebrates its 10th anniversary, Kevin Borras, the magazine’s editor throughout, talks to some of the major players in enforcement about how their sector has evolved over the past decade.
I remember interviewing a prominent member of the enforcement community at the turn of the century, well before the launch of Thinking Highways, and I asked him how he thought the sector was viewed by the general public and by drivers in particular. His answer still resonates: “I think we are seen as being some kind of dark force, but if people didn’t drive too fast there’d be no need for enforcement!”
Although hard to argue with, that was not a situation that was ever likely to change and as someone who had made a fairly healthy living out of processing speed-related violations it was highly unlikely that my interviewee wanted it to, but a decade is a long time in traffic technology so what has changed since then? How has the enforcement sector evolved and has it evolved in the manner that the experts and experienced protagonists predicted?
Technology in other sectors has advanced exponentially over the last 10 years and it has certainly followed suit in the enforcement world but what do our panel of experts believe has been the most important advancement since Thinking Highways launched…and perhaps just as importantly, why?
“Exactly ten years ago, we received the German type approval for the first generation of PoliScan LIDAR speed enforcement systems,” says Vitronic’s executive sales director Daniel Scholz-Stein. “This marked the beginning of non-invasive multi-lane and multi-object detection in traffic enforcement. The PoliScan systems did not require the installation of any sensors like loops or piezos in the pavement. Installing and servicing these in-road sensors had so far required regular road closures and was very expensive. At the same time the PoliScan systems were more reliable and accurate than radar and could be deployed at high risk areas like bends, work zones or streets with a lot of parked cars like in front of kindergartens or schools. To deploy radar-based systems on the sites mentioned before is usually very difficult or even impossible. Shortly afterwards we introduced the pillared City Design Housing for enforcement technology that has been adopted by many vendors and has largely replaced the old box-shaped pole mounted housings.”
Lumenera’s director of product management, Eric Ramsden, sees things slightly differently, as you would expect from a camera vendor.
“As a camera vendor, we are focused on what advancements in imaging have helped to improve specific ITS applications. As a general statement, it would have to be the overall improvement to imaging performance from CCD sensors,’’ he says. “Sensors with higher responsivity and higher dynamic range are able to produce the results required to accurately capture license places and perform ANPR under a wide variety of weather and lighting conditions.”
For Basler’s Enzio Schneider it’s also an innovation in sensors that has impressed him. “The CMOS complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) sensor performance improvements, especially in regard to lower noise and high sensitivity, have pushed the trend from CCD (charge-coupled device) to CMOS forward very strongly. Also because of the much lower prices the use of industrial cameras in traffic applications has grown massively.”
The people that took the time to participate in this article come from quite separate and disparate parts of the enforcement world (quite deliberately) but sensors are once again held up as an example of how things have progressed.
Says Massimiliano Cominelli of Tattile: “As an ANPR manufacturer we cannot avoid highlighting the technological improvements in our field. We saw the recognition rate drastically rise in all weather conditions. This was in part thanks to the sensor sensitivity and improved algorithms but it\s mainly due to the capability to join those two features together in a standalone unit and make the result reliable and fast, at the same time maintaining the shape and keeping power consumption at minimal levels.”
So what of the camera manufacturers themselves? CohuHD are one of the most recognisable names in the surveillance camera market and the company’s director of ITS systems sales, Curt Duplack, has his own quite different views of how the industry has moved on.
“IP camera technology usage is the most significant advancement in video camera technology in the past 10 years. Contributing to the use of IP technology are advancements in video compression as well as the development of the standards based protocol, ONVIF (Open Network Video Interface Forum),” he explains. “Results of the increased IP camera usage are inter-agency sharing, improved response and additional advancements in compression and VMS software. Ten years ago less than 15 per cent of US DOTs, cities and counties were using IP cameras for ITS applications. Today approximately 85 per cent have transitioned from analog to IP.”
Duplack’s near-encyclopaedic answer to what was meant as an opening gambit of a question makes for fascinating reading.
“The increased bandwidth demands of high-definition video require compression to allow for transmission across IP networks. H.264 compression accommodates bandwidth limitations of IP network and allows for transmission of high-definition video streams. The widespread use of video encoding has led to integration of encoders into the camera. Previously encoders were another piece of equipment that had to be sourced and integrated into the system. Increased use of IP cameras also increases the need for cameras to integrate on a multi-functional network. As a result, cameras must operate on a standards based protocol to provide seamless interoperability and integration with equipment from a variety of sources. This demand for interoperability has led to the development of the ONVIF protocol as a standard. The widespread adoption of ONVIF has opened opportunities for software developers to build VMS platforms that are universal to any cameras or network. The results of increased IP camera usage has allowed for camera streams to be shared between ITS, law enforcement and public safety entities. This sharing improves the response and efficiencies of these organizations delivering improved safety, reduced congestion and better public opinion. Looking to the future, IP cameras delivery of seamless interoperability, high-definition images and advanced compression opens the opportunity for improvements in video analytics”.
WE’VE COME A LONG WAY…
Looking back to 2006, is the enforcement sector as far advanced in 2016 as our panel experts were perhaps expecting it to be back then? Had they the power of foresight would they have been surprised at how it’s shaped up in the intervening years? Not a question I would be overly comfortable answering but fortunately I am this side of the ‘fence’.
“Technology-wise a lot of improvements have been applied in recent years, especially in the ANPR market. For example in compact size, higher processing power, more sensitive sensors, lower prices,” says Basler’s Schneider. “However, standardization is still not on track as it would be helpful for easier interoperability of different systems. This is not just the case with enforcement but it’s relevant in tolling and surveillance as well.”
The general advancements of the digital age have, according to Vitronic’s Scholz-Stein, made a lasting impression in the enforcement sphere.
“There has been quite a bit of advancement in the last 10 years. Besides the switch to non-invasive technologies we have seen the wet-films replaced by digital cameras, which has laid the foundation for truly digital case data,” he says enthusiastically. “Together with the spread of fast wireless data connections and IP-capable enforcement devices violation notices can now be processed in a fraction of the time it took 10 years ago. This is very important if you consider that a shorter time span between the offence and the fine notice has a much higher educational effect. Also, networked devices allow authorities to remotely adapt speed limits to changing traffic volumes.” He is less enthusiastic, however, about the various national homologation processes.
“That’s the one thing that is still preventing fast and widespread adoption of new technologies. Many countries have their own national certification institution and acquiring type approval for each market is a costly and resource-consuming exercise”.
For Eric Ramsden, newer to the industry than his four counterparts, it’s a chance to look solely forward.
“As I was not personally involved in the ITS industry back in 2006 I can’t really comment on where it was and where it is today, but I can say that when looking at today’s industry, from a technology perspective, there seems to be far more technologies available to develop multiple solutions for one problem. I doubt that in 2006, people were considering ever using smartphones for mobile tolling applications.”
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
It will certainly be interesting to see how the enforcement sector will continue to reshape and reform over the next few years and if there will be a game-changing innovation that will have us all talking at World and European Congresses. Our panel have some thought-provoking estimates as to what they might be.
“Looking forward five years,” volunteers Duplack, ”CohuHD predicts that camera resolution and compression will continue to improve. 4K cameras or better will be widely implemented along with improved compression. H.265 will be necessary to accommodate the bandwidth needed to view the 4K camera video image on all networks, including mobile.”
“With the shift towards smarter and better networked traffic systems we will see a better integration of enforcement technology with other traffic systems,” according to Scholz-Stein. “This will be a two-way integration where the cameras feed data into management systems and can in turn be automatically adjusted to enforce changing traffic regulations such as speed limits depending on the traffic situation or even the closure of certain lanes or entire roads specific vehicles like trucks for example.”
Tattile’s Cominelli has certainly given this subject some thought.
“Vehicles and devices will speak together. The cameras will be small, embedded in roadside furniture and providing as much data as possible in a single device. We should find a way to create a link between device and vehicle, to assign a unique identification and immediate control. It can be useful for many purpose apart the speed,” he continues. “For example, for crime prevention or persecution purposes, for tax payment verification and so on. Looking further ahead it should also be possible to monitor the road behaviour of autonomous vehicles.”
Enzio Schneider can narrow down his field of vision, if you excuse the pun, and focus on just two potential improvements, and neither are particularly or groundbreakingly innovative.
“Why place multiple cameras on the road that are doing separate things instead of more integrated solutions? Although enforcement systems and tolling systems provide cameras in place anyway, additional surveillance cameras are installed separately. Interoperability and standardization would improve this situation from the efficiency point of view.”
ENFORCEMENT CAMERAS: THE BIGGER PICTURE
Talking of innovation, just how innovative can a camera be? What more can be done that is not possible now? There surely has to be a point where, in respect of resolution and communications, “peak camera” will be soon be reached. If that is true, says Scholz-Stein, it’s not going to be any time soon.
“Many authorities are just beginning to use the existing enforcement technology to its full potential,” he counters. “For instance in Abu Dhabi, where VITRONIC is building an automated enforcement system, our LIDAR systems are already transmitting data on traffic volume and vehicle types while at the same time monitoring speeds. They are also not limited to speed enforcement but can detect other violations like running a red light, tailgating or hard shoulder running.”
Duplack, naturally enough, sees things from the surveillance video angle: “Video analytics will need to more and more innovative to allow for storage and access of video only when events determine it to be necessary for response, enforcement or recording. CohuHD predicts that video analytics software will become more user-friendly and operate seamlessly like a mobile app.”
“Camera systems, specifically ANPR camera systems, have already replaced other technology, like transponders, in an increasing number of tolling projects,” proffers Basler’s Schneider. “Vehicle detection cameras are continuously replacing inductive loops at traffic lights so why not replace radar or laser for speed measurement with vehicle speed detection in video image as a next step?”
“The thing is,” suggests Lumenera’s Ramsden, “innovations are always occurring in the imaging domain but the key requirements might vary depending on the customer budget. Enhancements to cameras will always include designs where one can increase the dynamic range or sensitivity to capture images with very little light and handle high contrast scenes to avoid glare blowing out a specific region of interest in an image. One feature recently added to one of our cameras is a dual-gain HDR function so that you can achieve HDR from a single image capture. This avoids blurring that occurs when capturing an image of a fast moving object with bracketed HDR where sequential images are merged together. Also, as costs decrease for processing power, you will see far more functionality get pushed into the camera itself so that the solution is further simplified.”
The saying “the customer is always right” is often wheeled out when the conversation leans towards local authority procurement processes. I’ve lost count of the number of times vendors gave complained that the authority doesn’t know what it wants and I’ve equally lost count of the number of times a local authority has opined that the vendor only wants to offer them the most expensive solution. I wondered if that situation has changed for the better in this title’s lifetime and if drivers are now better-educated as to what enforcement measures are there to do.
Vitronic’s Daniel Scholz-Stein is first to answer. ”It is safe to say that traffic enforcement today is a proven and accepted means to increase road safety. We have seen many national camera programs in the last decade that have made significant contributions to the reduction of fatalities and injuries. Even the WHO states that the enforcement of speed limits is essential for successfully developing safer driving behaviour. Probably the only exception to this is the United States where there is currently a rising scepticism towards camera programmes due to the unethical conduct of individual companies.”
It seems only logical (and fair) for a US-based company to respond. “Drivers are more tolerant of video technology when it results in reduced drive-time, improved response time and enhanced traffic conditions,” says CohuHD’s Curt Duplack. “Ten years ago, cameras were implemented for red light enforcement with the promise of accident reduction. Most US cities have now disabled their red light cameras. It has been a hot-button political issue, with data suggesting increased rear-end collisions as a result of the red light cameras. Cameras have also been used for speed enforcement in certain states such as Arizona. These cameras are no longer being used due to public dissatisfaction. An Arizona Senate committee gave approval to legislation that would ban the use of speed cameras Statewide despite pleas from several police departments to block the bill. It is believed that photo enforcement violates the US Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches.”
Canada-based Ramsden concurs. “Based on the discussions I’ve had at conferences like IBTTA and the ITS World Congress, it seems that enforcement cameras are still not popular with the general public, in North America particular, and politicians. Many see it as a cash-grab versus safety enhancement and it’s hard to have politicians support it if it might cost them an election. As for tolling and enforcement of tolling, I believe many regions globally see the benefit of these systems to offset the costs to build and maintain new infrastructures.”
The situation in Europe, as our German and Italian-based experts maintain, is not altogether different but the picture may at least be changing for the better.
“In some regions new business models for enforcement systems were implemented where suppliers provide the systems as a service, meaning no investment by local authorities, because the systems are still owned and run by the supplier. This which makes the decision easier for the authorities,” explains Enzio Schneider. “This does not mean that the public likes enforcement systems more than it did 10 years ago, but the acceptance of the necessity increased.”
Says Cominelli, “I strongly believe that drivers are better educated now, at least in Italy, compared to when Thinking Highways came into being. Authorities in general are largely changing their views regarding enforcement. Nowadays they are indeed deployed for mitigating and preventing congestion and for reducing pollution levels. We can all agree that if you cross a traffic light while it’s red is tantamount to attempted murder, so we really shouldn’t complain if our community is installing such a device.”
Here’s a quote from 2006 that I unearthed that, as far as I can make out (with one foot inside and one foot outside the industry) still rings true today. “Intelligent technology can only work if it is implemented using an intelligent strategy”. So the question to our panel is a simple one: has the development of intelligent strategies kept pace with the development of intelligent technology? After almost 30 years of interviewing people from all walks of life, across many industries and sectors, it’s no secret that it’s the simple ones that require the most thought to answer.
“This statement is very strong, even as of 2016,” retorts Curt Duplack. “For example, the red light cameras for enforcement received significant public backlash. I have firsthand experience receiving a violation and I question that the technology accuracy is also based on regular maintenance and alignment of cameras to provide accurate information. It is important that camera technology be implemented as an enhancement to the driving experience by reducing congestion, improving response and improving the overall driving experience.” He’s not finished there and makes a pertinent last point on the subject. “If camera technology is perceived as a punitive measure as the examples of red light or speed enforcement, public backlash will negate any improvements and support including funding will be difficult if not impossible to secure.”
Daniel Scholz-Stein is in contemplative mood. “Intelligent technology will work without intelligent strategy but the benefit is significantly higher when deployed strategically. The technology is usually first but we see new strategies currently emerging in many places, especially around the concepts of smart cities as devices are networked and software solutions become powerful enough to process large amounts of data and deliver real-time information to planners and road users. Last but not least, enforcement technology only makes sense if it is embedded into a road safety strategy implementing additional ‘soft’ measures like educational campaigns.
“I partially agree with that notion,” says Massimiliano Cominelli. “Big steps have been taken but not all the implemented ITS has been done in the right way. We should, however, be confident about using that as a lesson on how to do it better in the next 10 years.”
Lumenera’s Ramsden is also rather circumspect. “Just because great technologies exist doesn’t mean they will be integrated in a manner that makes sense. I believe the pace of evolution of the different technologies can impact system design, moreso today as because we are moving into interconnected systems such as V2V, V2I etc, a properly defined strategy is required so that we consider flexibility in the design so that it can adapt more easily to integrating future technologies. Strategies need to be clearly defined and coordinated if we are to let our cars drive themselves and communicate with infrastructure. Automated vehicles and infrastructure will need to be 100 per cent reliable in behaviour to avoid disastrous consequences – 99.9 per cent just won’t cut it.”
THE LAST WORD
Enzio Schneider exits stage left but not without potentially doing himself out of a job.
“Intelligent technology just won’t persist on a long-term scale if it’s not used in a proper way. How about looking at traffic telematics by onboard units to monitor the behaviour of both drivers and vehicles? If such onboard units were mandatory around the globe in 10 years from now enforcement systems would be obsolete!”
“Today’s customers of enforcement technology and tolling technology are mostly different and have different interests. However, the technology that is used for tolling systems is very similar to a point-to-point speed enforcement implementation,” Vitronic’s Daniel Scholz-Stein points out before concluding with something of a wish. “In principle it would be possible to do all types of enforcement and applications at the same time from only one deployment. The limiting factor today is only that legislation does not allow for multi-enforcement usage.”
Massimiliano Cominelli, key account manager, Tattile, Italy
Curt Duplack, sales director, ITS Systems. CohuHD, USA
Eric Ramsden, director of product management, Lumenera Corp, Canada
Enzio Schneider, ITS product line manager, Basler AG, Germany
Daniel Scholz-Stein, executive sales director, Vitronic GmbH, Germany