A video parking management system has one core function: “see” everything that happens on each of your car park spaces. Parking managers use the system to monitor spaces in real-time (occupancy, reservation, price, stats) and manage their facility more efficiently. Users benefit from parking guidance, enhanced security and better overall experience in the car park.
Some people call this kind of system video parking guidance but I prefer video parking management because I believe it is too restrictive to limit applications to driver guidance. This kind of system allows fine grained management like, for example, parking space reservation or dynamic parking space pricing.
I would like to review main differences between available video sensors in term of hardware implementation. I am not going to include specific software features or accuracy rates that are extremely important but easier to evaluate.
I see 3 main architecture models that dominate the market today:
One camera for each space, placed on sides of the driveway
This architecture is the simplest with one camera per space - it is really similar to ultrasonic sensor based systems.
One camera for several spaces with “crossed” monitoring
In this architecture cameras look at the opposite spaces. From my experience this configuration allows up to 3 spaces to be monitored at most.
One camera for several spaces, installed in the middle of the driveway
In this configuration cameras are closer to the spaces they monitor and can see 1 or 2 spaces at most (more on that in section 3 below).
With a single cable trail and 1 fixation point per double-side camera, the more cost effective solution is clearly the last one. I would recommend this kind of architecture for more mature markets with high labor costs.
Even though each camera can monitor several parking spaces, there are some limitations. Due to the optical distortion of the camera lens, the closer you get to the space, the shorter the focal of the lens and this increases the distortion.
Below is an image taken from cameras installed in the middle of the driveway:
Monitoring 3 spaces with focal 2.8mm
You see the angle of the car plate. It is going to be very difficult to process the license plate with this angle. Here you end up with 2 spaces out of 3 with potentially unread license plates.
Monitoring 2 spaces with focal 4mm (By L’iPark)
On the picture above, distortion is minimal and license plates be recognized easily.
It is not all about lens and camera resolution. The image sensor itself is extremely important to get clear images in different lighting conditions.
My advice - test the camera in different sections of the car park, especially the darker ones.
License Plate Recognition (LPR) is one of the core features of the system. Without LPR there is no space reservation, no car retrieval and, more important, no customer behavior analytics.
Nowadays there is plenty of choice to do license plate recognition. There are even interesting open source projects.
The secret is that there is a huge difference between 90% and 98% accuracy - and this kind of high accuracy can only be reached with advanced algorithms and years of experience.
LPR is done in multiple stages. The short version is: plate detection, character segmentation and optical character recognition (OCR). This means that having an OCR capable of recognizing Latin or Cyrillic or Chinese characters does not ensure a high accuracy LPR.
In my experience, LPR is tricky. Many suppliers, particularly in China, promise to implement LPR for any country but in practice are not able to reach high accuracy on markets outside China. You will end up paying for their R&D and maybe reach an acceptable accuracy after years of testing. Be warned.
Most of the video parking guidance systems on the market offer the ability to add video recording capability as an option. This option often comes with an external NVR (Network Video Recorder) using different management software. I would recommend using a solution fully integrated with the parking management system. This will help you get the most out of the system and there is no point installing cameras if you cannot use video streams.
In addition, if video streaming and recording is important, choose a cabled solution. Streaming over Wi-Fi is unstable and easier to jam or hack. Cabled installation can take a little extra time to install but this time will be saved on maintenance and greatly improve the security.
On premise management software tends to disappear. The cloud era we entered a few years ago is reaching the parking industry with all the promises we have come to know: hardware virtualization, scalability and access to software anywhere and anytime.
But let me focus on some core advantages I see using cloud management platform in our industry:
- Multi car park management from a single software access point
Very few car park operators manage a single car park. Connecting the management application to the cloud help operators reduce the staffing operational cost. In Europe some car parks are now running without full time staff.
- Easy remote upgrades
With software running in the cloud, upgrades are a breeze. One update and all the car parks are using the same version of the software.
- Higher availability and continuity of service
With hardware virtualization, it takes mere seconds to redeploy the software on new servers after hardware failure.
- Open API for mobile application
Here comes probably one of the most important features to take into account during your selection process. If your customers can benefit from your investment as well, you will greatly improve the customer service and speed up your ROI.
By connecting your car park resources to drivers with mobile applications, you can acquire a competitive advantage and attract new customers to your facility. Make sure to check out our post related to mobile transition in the parking industry.
I am the CTO @ Silex Lab. We offer an affordable and innovative video parking management system, L’iPark©, as an alternative to the ultrasonic sensors systems.
We provide not only a powerful & scalable management tool for the car park operators but also a unique user mobile experience.
Discover here the kind of mobile experience you can create for your customers with L’iPark© API on your company mobile app.