Automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) is gaining popularity in various sectors, including the carwash industry. This article examines how ALPR can help operators gain efficiency and offer a better user experience.
Automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) is gaining popularity in various sectors, including the carwash industry. This article examines how ALPR
can help operators gain efficiency and offer a better user experience.
For those of us who drive, carwashes
are indispensable. At the same time, carwash facilities are mushrooming across the globe. Yet carwash operators also face certain challenges and pain points. Many such facilities still rely on manual labor directing vehicles to the cue. After the wash, no record is left for operators to engage further with customers and do more targeted marketing
This is where ALPR can come in to help. “ALPR is one of the technologies widely deployed and utilized by the in-bay automatic and conveyor segments of the market, as opposed to the self-service facilities, which do not have the same need," said Zebedeo Peña, Strategic Account Manager at Genetec, which recently announced that their AutoVuTM Sharp V ALPR cameras have been integrated with Sonny’s The CarWash Factory’s point-of-sale solutions.
“ALPR can improve the experience not only for the consumer but also for the operator,” Peña added. “It can be combined with consumptive analytics to provide intelligence to operators on how to optimize their offerings to their subscribers. It can also help correlate services to each vehicle and make sure the customer is getting the wash they selected. Previously, this was a manual process.”
Specifically, ALPR can help operators create a frictionless retail experience for customers, develop new marketing opportunities and become more efficient. Below we take a closer look at each.
According to Peña, when consumers sign up for carwash service packages and use their license plate as their identifier, they can simply drive up to the pay station, the ALPR camera identifies their license plate, and within seconds the gate arm retracts. “They proceed directly into the queue for service. This expedited transaction can be used for premier service offerings, with a lane dedicated to customers with a service package. Statistics indicate that 66 percent of Americans get their carwashed approximately 13 times per year. With a more seamless experience at the transaction point, it becomes simpler to bundle and offer premium services to a customer base,” Peña said.
New marketing opportunities
ALPR is all about data, which can help operators conduct more targeted campaigns, retain customers and grow revenue. “By using ALPR to gather information on consumptive trends quickly and easily, operators are empowered to run new campaigns and determine what is working and what is not. They can determine how and by when membership subscribers are most often using their service, providing real-time, proactive marketing insight and uncovering opportunities to impact their bottom line,” Peña said.
More efficient operations
ALPR can also make carwash facilities more efficient. “Automation using ALPR data can impact not only the efficacy of the service offering but also the bottom line of the operator costing model. For example, in a multi-lane environment, there is no longer a need for a full-time attendant to monitor the flow. ALPR authorization automates this flow. A single lane with a touch screen and an attendant call button can handle addressing drop-in consumers. This reduces the demand on staff,” Peña said.
“Another example is the use of a queuing attendant to ensure the vehicles are in the proper order. Traditionally, an attendant had to make changes to the queue if cars were in the wrong order. Using ALPR, this process can be automated,” he added.
Advantages over RFID
Indeed, other identification technologies such as RFID
can be used. Yet ALPR boasts a main advantage. “The primary benefit is nothing additional needs to be added to the vehicle to facilitate the automation benefits. The primary challenges reported regarding RFID relate to the RFID tag itself, which then impacts the effectiveness of the solution. Examples of pain points include the cost per subscriber or vehicle, placement of the tag that impacts the reading, windshield cleaners that impact the tag especially, and other types of ‘tags’ that can cause interference such as toll passes used in many urban areas. Leveraging a vehicle’s existing license plate over an additional tag simplifies this process for both the operator and the consumer,” Peña said.
ALPR cameras ideal
As for what cameras should be used in ALPR solutions for carwashes, purpose-built ALPR cameras would be ideal in situations where credentials and other vehicle-related data are needed to optimize the carwash's day-to-day operations. “This is because these cameras have much higher accuracy levels than IP cameras with added ALPR capabilities,” Peña said. “Purpose-built ALPR cameras also provide more flexibility in terms of installation. For instance, when infrastructure is not available directly behind a vehicle license plate, but rather higher up on a gantry-like structure, these cameras are built to provide accurate data at various angles and distances. An IP camera with ALPR capability may need firmware or software tweaking to get an accurate vehicle read.”
ALPR camera is also easier to install. “Unlike an RFID-enabled automated carwash, where the sensor is typically placed above the entrance to the carwash and the tag must be optimally placed on the front of the vehicle for proper reading, utilizing a purpose-built ALPR camera allows for much more flexibility,” Peña said. “Most purpose-built ALPR cameras are built to read vehicles and their plates and can do so from a distance. They have more placement flexibility. They can be placed a couple of feet off the ground in the entrance lane as much as they can be placed a little higher up on a gantry-like structure or light pole.”
He added that the illumination method most often used in purpose-built ALPR equipment is infrared (IR) with varying illumination levels.