PlateSmart’s John Chigos: The Future of Vehicle Recognition Technology

As we close out the first months of 2017, American Security Today is taking the opportunity to talk with some of the leading players in security for their take on the state of the industry and where it is headed.

We caught up with John Chigos, CEO of PlateSmart Technologies for his thoughts.

PlateSmart is the industry leader in the vehicle recognition, analytics technology and ALPR sectors, as well as the 2016 ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Awards Program Platinum Winner for Best License Plate Recognition System, and the Gold Award Winner for Best Video Analytics Solution.

John Chigos, CEO & Founder, PlateSmart Technologies
John Chigos, CEO & Founder, PlateSmart Technologies

American Security Today: Where do you see the security industry now, and specifically, where do you see ALPR at this point in time?

John Chigos: The security industry is on an incredible growth curve right now, which isn’t surprising to me given the current state of the world.

Not to be a purveyor of doom and gloom, but we all know we are at an extremely dangerous point in history – not only overseas but especially within our own borders.

As a result, the industry is expanding rapidly; some estimates project the global public safety and security market will top $400 billion in value by 2020.

ALPR, and all vehicle identification technology, is a very significant piece of that market, one that the industry is embracing.

It is also in a period of tremendous change right now due to new innovations we’re working on at PlateSmart. It is transforming into a complete vehicle recognition technology powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning.

AST: What is unique about PlateSmart products and differentiates your products from your competitors, especially as it relates to government?

John Chigos: First off, PlateSmart doesn’t really have any direct competitors in the marketplace, because other players in this space don’t do everything we do.

Those vendors base their products on what we call “old-school” ALPR technology. I’m talking about the old, closed, hardware-dependent systems that you see mounted on police vehicles.

Not only are those systems bulky and expensive, all they really do is attempt to report a license plate number. They get a license plate hit on a criminal database, they alert you.

That’s about it. More importantly, they don’t do it very accurately in real-life conditions.

Most companies base their accuracy rates on testing conditions that don’t mirror reality.

At PlateSmart, we’ve moved way beyond that point, and so we can’t really call ourselves an ALPR company anymore. ALPR is still a part of what we do, but our focus is on complete vehicle identification.

That means recognizing not just the license plate, but also the vehicle make, type, color, and many other identifiers. We can do that because we don’t use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) like the competition does.

Our proprietary algorithm performs true object analysis on a video image, which means that yes, it can read license plates, but it can also read just about any other data you wish, like product labels or shipping crate markings, for example.

But it can also recognize objects in a frame, such as a vehicle, as well as the important identifiers of that vehicle such as make and color.

In addition to all that, we also include analytics capabilities that you don’t normally see in an old-school solution.

For example, ARES, our flagship enterprise-level platform, can recognize suspicious vehicle movement patterns and can also tell you if a particular vehicle has loitered in one location for too long.

We’re also adding many new analytic features in the second and third quarters of 2017, such as vehicle style recognition and facial detection based on vectorless technology, that will increase the user’s real-time situational awareness.

All of those features are advanced capabilities we realized were needed long ago by government agencies at the local, state, and national levels, which are tasked with protecting the public from crime and terror.

The biggest advantage for all of these agencies is that, because we’re software-based, our technology, with all of these capabilities, can be mass deployed quickly and easily.

And even with all these advantages, we are still a fraction of the cost of competing technologies.

(Learn More about ARES wide range of capabilities, courtesy of PlateSmart and YouTube) 

AST: What do you see as barriers to widespread implementation of technology like PlateSmart’s?

John Chigos: One element may be the public’s misperception of it as a kind of “Big Brother” spying tool.

Police and security agencies have sometimes been reluctant to adopt it due to such privacy issues and the ethical questions they raise, even though studies show that the public is willing to accept more surveillance if it increases their security.

That misperception also filters back to our elected representatives, some of whom seek to gain votes by passing regulations of the technology that are so strict that it becomes practically useless.

We advocate reasonable regulations on data storage and retention.

At PlateSmart, we’ve designed our products to protect people, not spy on them, and we’re willing to accept necessary limitations that preserve privacy as long as they still allow law enforcement and security agencies to do their jobs.

We have also designed our products so that we as a company never see the user’s data, and are adding features that allow the data to be anonymized for even better protection.

It’s important to understand that we don’t view groups like the ACLU or EFF as adversaries; rather, we consider them partners, and we welcome their advice to make sure we don’t overstep our bounds.

AST: Do you anticipate the new Trump Administration having an impact on the industry?

John Chigos: It’s interesting you should ask that. A lot of the new developments in our technology that I’ve been talking about (and some I can’t disclose yet) are things we’ve kept under wraps for some time.

The main reason was because we felt that the previous administration created a climate that was largely unreceptive to this technology and inclined more toward actions that potentially made the threats worse, such as possibly granting amnesty to illegal aliens or admitting refugees without proper vetting.

There was not a lot of willingness to listen to industry leaders about the best way to protect the country from terrorism, whether it be foreign or homegrown.

By contrast, the new administration is much more aware of the need to protect us from the threats within our borders as well as the ones outside our country.

As a result, I believe they will utilize this technology to a much greater degree than their predecessors would ever have considered. I believe this will have a tremendous positive impact on our physical security infrastructure and on our industry.

AST: Where do you see the industry five years from now?

John Chigos: After spending the last 13 years in this industry, I’m confident in saying it’s inevitable that you’re going to see major mass deployments of vehicle identification systems like ours.

It’s inevitable because we’re more vulnerable than we’ve ever been at any point in history, and most people don’t really want to think about it or understand it.

It’s clear that the new administration understands that and is ready to address it.

As an example, take our power grid, which we depend on for our very lives. There was a study released last year that highlighted four primary risks to the grid, one of them being man-made threats, meaning physical attacks.

It cited a report from Time magazine that stated a coordinated attack on just nine of our 55,000 electric transmission substations on the right day could cause a nationwide blackout.

And yet, as this same report points out, we are being very slow to adopt enhanced physical security measures.

We talk about cybersecurity, and rightly so, but remember it takes a lot more skill and intelligence to hack into a server controlling part of the grid than it does to blow up a power plant.

It’s not a question of if this will happen, but when. That’s why it’s so imperative that technology like PlateSmart’s and similar technologies be deployed as quickly as possible to protect us prior to an attack.

I believe you’re also going to see an increased use of it at the southern border, making use of drones equipped with the technology to identify and track drug smugglers and terrorists trying to sneak into the country.

Our technology in particular will be widely deployed because our analytics can rapidly identify potential threatening events in real time before they occur. The availability of this mission-critical data will be a key factor for security agencies.

It will also be important for them to be able to integrate this intelligent technology with cameras and equipment they already have in place, all advantages that we offer.

In short, the next five years is going to see exponential growth for this industry.

In closing, I’d like to say that PlateSmart is just beginning to reveal all of its capabilities.

We don’t disclose everything we do because we don’t want to give anybody any ideas about how they might try to circumvent it. And this is one of my biggest concerns about security.

The agencies that protect us have to keep much of what they do secret in order to protect us; that’s how they remain effective. That may seem frustrating at times, but we’re all safer for it in the end.

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PlateSmart offers both mobile and fixed ALPR and analytic solutions, which are designed either to function as stand-alone tools or to integrate with third-party software and hardware.

ARES, PlateSmart’s enterprise ALPR-based analytics solution, provides real-time actionable intelligence with industry-leading accuracies and state jurisdiction recognition for complete situational awareness, and have been recognized as the most innovative and forward-thinking LPR technology by Frost and Sullivan.