PlateSmart CEO John Chigos is a man on a mission. The one-time venture capitalist and financier decided some eight years ago that his purpose in life would be to help make law enforcement officers safer by creating an accurate and relatively inexpensive license plate reader (LPR). The result is PlateSmart, a software-only solution that adds LPR capabilities to the existing computer and camera in a patrol car. Platesmart is also the only LPR technology that can be easily integrated with third-party technology via a simple-to-use software development kit.
Chigos came to LPR through two major events in his life. On 9/11, his office was just a few blocks from the World Trade Center towers, but he chose not to go to work that day. Realizing how "lucky" he'd been, he decided that he needed to do something to enhance public safety, but he wasn't sure what that "something" could be.
The answer came to him nearly three years later in 2004 after a near miss on the highway. "I got cut off, and it happened so fast that I couldn't get the guy's plate," says Chigos. "That got me to thinking: How do police do this (capture license plate numbers on fast-moving vehicles)? I soon learned that an extraordinary number of police officers were being killed on the side of the road during traffic stops."
Chigos came to believe that one way to protect officers would be to provide them with as much information as possible in real time about the driver of a stopped car before they made contact with that motorist. He decided that the key to such an alert system would have to be a computerized LPR system linked to a number of law enforcement databases.
Most of the LPR systems available at that time were being imported from Europe. Chigos and his team tested them and found they had a number of major weaknesses that needed improvement. One was cost. Chigos knew there was no way that most American law enforcement agencies could afford to deploy these systems en masse. He also discovered that the systems did not work with all the different plate designs in the United States, nor could they read the jurisdiction of the states. "European license plates are very uniform and their letters and numbers are much larger so they are easier to read," Chigos explains.
Chigos and his PlateSmart team spent the next eight years developing a product they say solves both of these problems. PlateSmart was released earlier this year.
PlateSmart is a software-only solution that costs substantially less than other LPR systems because it does not require dedicated hardware and special cameras. Chigos says PlateSmart software has the potential to make LPR a common officer safety tool. "LPR is only really viable for officer safety as a mass-adopted technology. Single units are good at capturing minor things like stolen cars, but they are never going to fulfill the promise of what LPR could do for officers."
According to Chigos, the promise of LPR is to make both officers and the public they serve safer. "With our system, officers know about violation histories, wants and warrants, or whether vehicles are stolen before they even get out of their cars," he says.
PlateSmart claims industry-leading accuracy for its plate reading software. "Our average accuracy is well above the 90% range, and we can read all 50 states’ juridictions, even in the rain," Chigos says. To prove the technology's all-weather capability, PlateSmart had its software tested by Panasonic personnel, who ran a test during Tropical Storm Debby earlier this year. Panasonic said the system was more accurate during the heavy downpours than the other LPR systems they had tested under much better weather conditions.
"PlateSmart is more accurate than conventional LPR, and an agency can outfit five or six cars for what it costs to outfit one car with conventional LPR hardware and software," Chigos says.
Chigos also says that "PlateSmart is in the process of integrating its LPR technology with Video Management Systems (VMS), creating a "true end-to-end security system."