By John Brandon
Published November 11, 2011
Be wary, American motorists, the Russians are coming!
At least their speed cameras are.
Next year, Ontario-based Peak Gain Systems will offer a cutting edge photo radar gun in the United States that was developed in Russia, and it could be coming to a town near you.
About the size of a toaster over, the Simicon Cordon can track up to 32 vehicles at the same time and is said to be far more advanced than other photo radar guns currently in use.
“This takes photos on a continuous basis, so it can handle whatever traffic comes by and issue hundreds or even thousands of tickets [per hour],” says Steven Fiter, the CEO of Peak Gain Systems.
The all-in-one camera and radar gun system detects violators automatically. There is no need for a human police officer to be present. When the radar gun detects a speeder, the camera snaps a photo of the car, then scans and identifies the license plate.
The software processes the “violation” in real-time for a police officer – or a deputized office worker – working in a control booth back at the station. Infractions are triggered automatically – most cars are flagged as being in a “buffer” zone (as Fiter called it) and are not ticketed. But, anyone going over the limit could be issued a citation. “Speeders can be fined according to the laws of that jurisdiction,” says Fiter.
“Cordon works automatically without human will,” says Ilya Barsky from Simicon. “The main feature is to provide an image of the car and the speed of the car at very high accuracy. There is no other photo-capture system that measures plus or minus one MPH.”
While other photo detection systems are often as big as a dishwasher, the Cordon is small enough for one person to lift, and could be fastened onto existing road signs. Fiter says no other photo detection system can capture as many cars at once, detect license plates so quickly, and feed real-time results.
“This technology would make it easier for law enforcement to identify and pursue speed violations,” says Thilo Koslowski, an automotive analyst with Gartner. However, Koslowski also wondered about the privacy issues, especially since the system snaps photos on public roads.
The Cordon uses algorithms to verify the speed, position, and direction of the driver. The license plate recognition technology, similar to face recognition, scans and captures each digit and letter.
Peak Gain Systems will distribute the Cordon as early as the first quarter of 2012, although no pilot programs have been announced. Fiter says that about one third of states in the US allow photo detection systems, about a third have banned them, and another third have not yet ruled on their legality.
Dr. Marcella Wilson, a technology consultant and speaker, says the Cordon system does provide the benefit of having accurate time, date, and location data for the speeding violation. That said, some law enforcement officers are incredulous about the benefits to use passive monitoring.
William Palmer, a spokesperson for the Minneapolis Police Department, says his police officers do not own or use any photo capture systems, and they had never even heard of the Cordon.
As for whether photo detection evidence can be used in court, Barsky says the Cordon is more accurate than any other speed detection system and that it uses a “metrological process” that would hold up in court. He admits that every country has slightly different rules governing photo evidence.
Wilson says there is not enough research into the technical aspects of photo evidence for speeders. In some states, drivers only need to have a license plate on the rear bumper, for example. And, it’s unclear if an owner is responsible for a ticket if they loan out their car to a lead-footed relative.
“Each city will need to address if the footage and ticketing can be privatized or done by local authorities, who will store the data, how long the data will be stored, and whether the data can be used for other reasons, such as to prove someone’s alibi in a murder case,” says Wilson. “Also, it is important for cities to address if the driver’s face needs to be seen to issue a ticket.”
Koslowski says the privacy issue may be an insurmountable challenge. He says the “shotgun” approach to catching speeders, which monitors every driver and flags violators using photo detection, does not provide enough benefits to outweigh the cost of individual privacy. Cordon blurs the faces of drivers, but the photos do initially capture the entire vehicle.
Barsky says it’s not a breach of privacy to snap photos of cars on public roads. He says the system can also be used to find criminals and even terrorists. “The price of [not detecting] these guys is too high!” he says.
Still, the experts are incredulous about whether Cordon will gain traction. Koslowski says he doesn’t think the Cordon will ever be used on U.S. soil.