Your Presence Counts

Your Presence Counts

A U.K. university has developed a new technology which will soon be sold through its offshoot company to agencies around the world wishing to accurately monitor whether high-occupancy vehicle lane rules are being complied with.

In 2001, laboratories at Britain's Loughborough University became the site of experiments to test whether human-counting camera technology could be developed for use in real-life road conditions. Vehicle Occupancy Limited was later set up to market dtect, the first commercially available version of the technology, which is aimed at bodies responsible for managing two-plus (driver plus another occupant) and three-plus vehicle-only lanes.

"There are approximately six high-occupancy vehicle lanes spread throughout the U.K., currently," explained Tim Ballantyne, Director of Business Development for Vehicle Occupancy, "with additional lanes being introduced. These are mainly found in high-density urban areas such as the cities of Leeds and Bristol, and on motorways. Additionally, plans to convert bus- and taxi-only lanes to include high-occupancy vehicles are being considered, to make better use of high-priority lanes which are already in use. The U.K. is a small country with an existing roads network which wasn't designed for the volume of vehicles currently using it. Ongoing challenges the nation faces are to build more roads, to encourage people to use public transportation, and to move more people along the current infrastructure."

The problem the University set out to solve was the ability to see inside a car under all lighting conditions. If the ambient light is not illuminating inside the car, it is very difficult to determine its contents. dtect is designed to look inside a car and count the number of human occupants. The technology uses two frequencies of IR light to achieve this. "As soon as the system is approved, we plan to sell it to customers in various countries, especially the U.S., who are interested in integrating it into road management as well as into tolling systems."

"The system works by taking two images inside a car at different IR frequencies," Ballantyne expounded. "The amount of light reflected or absorbed by human skin is different at these two frequencies; and these are unique to human skin. The rate of the skin's absorption/reflection is related to the amount of water in the human body and to attributes of human blood. The two photographic images are then analyzed by the system to distinguish human skin from other things in a car."

There are "extraordinary circumstances" under which the system may not be 100 percent accurate. These may have to do with weather and/or lighting conditions, or human physiological conditions. However, windscreen shades do not present a problem: One of the key challenges the R&D team faced was to come up with a system which would work irrespective of the car's windscreen type a challenge that was met. Lastly, the system is a line-of-sight one, "but this is also true of any manual-based system. The camera should be mounted at the optimum angle to look down into a vehicleˇs interior," Ballantyne recommended.

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