Getting a lock on the criminal element citywide
- By John Chigos
- May 02, 2016
The city of Montevideo is the capital of the South American nation
of Uruguay. With a population of 1.3 million, it is home to
roughly one-third of the country’s people. In addition to being
Uruguay’s main port, Montevideo is also the commercial and
educational center of the nation. A major player in the global economy, the
capital is consistently ranked as having the highest quality of life of any city
in Latin America.
Any major city has its share of crime, and Montevideo is no exception.
The city is a major tourist attraction, making it increasingly more attractive
to criminals during those certain times of the year when cruise ships dock
at city ports. The city’s high economic profile has the potential of making
it a prime target for terrorist attacks. With all of this in mind, city administrators
saw the wisdom of implementing a comprehensive citywide video
surveillance system complete with Automatic License Plate Recognition
(ALPR) capability. Ultimately, the city decided on a system consisting of
850 surveillance cameras plus an additional 20 ALPR cameras, and a request
for bids was issued.
Out of a vast number of proposals, Montevideo’s leadership ultimately
selected the one submitted by SONDA, one of the leading systems integrators
in Latin America. Headquartered in Santiago, Chile, SONDA has offices
in Mexico, Panama, and all over the South American continent, where
it has been designing and implementing automation systems, traffic control
and other complex, large-scale IT solutions since 1974. The Montevideo
project was based in SONDA’s Uruguay office.
A fundamental component of SONDA’s proposal was to deliver the best
ALPR solution possible for Montevideo’s surveillance system; however, it
was a new area for them. Joaquin Frechero, project lead for SONDA, explained
that this was their first experience with ALPR cameras.
After a period of research, the company approached PlateSmart of Oldsmar,
Fla., a pioneer in the development of software-based ALPR technology
and a longtime provider of groundbreaking fixed ALPR-based video
analytics solutions. Having already provided affordable and effective ALPR
solutions for large college campuses, hospitals, ports and similar locations,
PlateSmart’s engineers were ready for this new challenge. Frechero says that
SONDA ultimately selected ALPR-based video analytics platform based on
its documented technical advantages.
“We chose PlateSmart because it has an easy and intuitive interface and
scalability,” Frechero said. “Also, the architecture of the solution was similar
to the one we used in the city surveillance solution, so this was a plus.”
According to Frechero, his company also received a number of strong references
in favor of PlateSmart and ARES. Additionally, ARES has been the
recipient of a number of industry awards for excellence in security products.
The ARES platform has at its core PlateSmart’s unique camera-agnostic
ALPR engine, which was the first to reliably read North American license
plates as well as recognize their state jurisdictions. In its current iteration,
the engine can also recognize vehicle make and color. All image processing
is done in full color, which enables the PlateSmart engine to extract more
data from a video image than any other ALPR product. In addition, ARES
provides a full suite of video analytics capabilities, enabling such functions
as parking lot counts, suspicious vehicle movement pattern recognition,
and more. Future versions of ARES will include numerous supplemental
features including facial capture, and will be available to existing ARES
customers as an upgrade that will not require them to replace their cameras.
For this project, that meant that SONDA and the city would be able to
choose from a wide variety of cost-effective cameras for their ALPR needs
and could likely count on keeping them in place for a long time to come.
SONDA chose the Messoa LPR-610, for Montevideo’s ALPR needs.
PlateSmart already had a great deal of experience with Messoa cameras,
consistently achieving high ALPR accuracy with them. Engineers placed
20 LPR-610s at key streets and intersections, what Frechero calls “strategic
points of Montevideo.” System installation was carried out from April to
June of 2015.
SONDA’s team worked closely with PlateSmart engineers to position
and aim the Messoa cameras for optimum performance, ultimately enabling
Montevideo’s ARES solution to reliably capture license plates from
vehicles moving at speeds ranging from 40 to 100 kilometers per hour. The
two companies then proceeded to tie ARES into the city’s ‘Be On The Lookout’
(BOLO) database of wanted vehicles. When the system was first activated,
it immediately began producing alerts that wanted vehicles had been
detected, or “hits” as they are known. The sheer number of hits generated
proved somewhat overwhelming at first.
“When we first launched ARES we got a lot of hits,” Frechero said. “Then
we fine-tuned the system and got more hits.”
For Montevideo’s new citywide surveillance system, SONDA chose the
OnSSI Ocularis VMS as the central control solution. Ocularis is an open-architecture
platform that provides comprehensive digital monitor-and-record
functionality for all of the city’s surveillance cameras and can be accessed
from anywhere by authorized personnel. For the system to be successful, PlateSmart’s ARES would have to
interface with Ocularis and send it
metadata containing all license plate
capture information and criminal
database alerts. Fortunately, ARES
and Ocularis were well-acquainted;
PlateSmart and OnSSI, with the help
of Convergence TP (C2P), had previously
worked together extensively
on integrating the two platforms.
With the interface achieved, all license
plate capture and alert data
is available to authorized personnel
through Ocularis in addition to the
ability to monitor any cameras the
This deployment represents the
newest trend in the utilization of
ALPR; namely, the shift away from
mobile solutions toward fixed-location
solutions incorporating abundant
numbers of cameras distributed
over large areas. Until recently,
ALPR has been considered almost
exclusively as a vehicle-mounted
technology, usually conjuring images
of patrol cars driving through
neighborhoods with bulky black
cameras mounted either on the
trunk or the roof.
The more recent tendency, however,
has been to shift away from
this model, for a number of reasons.
First, most police departments with
mobile ALPR have only one or two
units at most and, unfortunately,
these units cannot be everywhere at
once. As a result, criminal offenders
are as likely to go unnoticed as not.
Secondly, ALPR in the car saddles
already busy patrol officers with the
burden of having to learn and operate
yet another piece of technology.
It is far more effective—and
safer—if the technology is centrally
controlled and monitored and the
relevant information is fed to the
officer when he or she needs it. This
is a model that PlateSmart wholeheartedly
supports. The company
sees the project in Uruguay as the
latest proving ground for the workability
of this philosophy.
“We are very satisfied with its
performance,” Frechero says, hastening
to add that ARES has “lived
up to its reputation.”
He further states that the city is
also “satisfied with the solution,” but
unfortunately is unable to give any
details regarding specific cases where
the technology has come in useful as
the information remains classified.
Even with the restrictions that exist
on information, however, all indications
are that the deployment has
been a rousing success. Frechero also
compliments PlateSmart and its service
Furthermore, the collaboration
between the teams at PlateSmart
and SONDA continues, as the two
work to train the ARES engine to
recognize Uruguayan motorcycle
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Security Today.