50 Best Companies to Watch 2020
The Silicon Review
The battle against crime is never-ending, and it is a difficult one. Law enforcement must have many tools by their side to handle threats and protect the public. To that end, License Plate Recognition (LPR), which uses surveillance cameras to automatically read license plates, is one of the best tools available. Tracking the movement of criminals is a daunting task, but by using LPR, that challenge becomes a bit more manageable. Additionally, by leveraging new technologies that are available today, there are systems in the market that are far more advanced than they were a decade ago.
PlateSmart was the first company to create a software-only, camera-agnostic automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) solution that could work with virtually any IP camera. It requires no proprietary hardware and is capable of integrating with almost any third-party video management system (VMS) or security solution. Based on early AI technology, it resulted in profound cost savings to customers that did not have to “rip and replace” their existing security infrastructures. The software was also judged superior by independent third parties across the industry. Current partnerships and integrations include industry giants such as Milestone Systems (for which PlateSmart is the only Gold Partner provider of ALPR technology), and Axis Communications as well as IPConfigure, Exacq, Geutebrück, and Bosch.
PlateSmart founder and CEO John Chigos’ inspiration in establishing PlateSmart was a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which made him keenly aware of the dangers Americans face from those who intend to do grave harm. He was convinced there was a technological solution to protecting American citizens. His research revealed that about 75% of all crime and terrorism is linked to a vehicle. Further investigation showed that ALPR, which at the time was used in Europe for traffic management, was being further developed for anti-crime and counterterrorism purposes. ALPR had not taken off in the U.S. because the technology could not handle the variety of U.S. plates at that time. European-based ALPR systems were also expensive, requiring specially designed cameras and dedicated processing hardware to function. Only the most affluent police departments were able to afford the $25,000-$35,000 per camera price tag.
Under Chigos’ leadership, PlateSmart created a software-only ALPR solution that could be mass-deployed, cost-effective, and able to accurately and reliably read plates of any type from any U.S. state — a major paradigm shift. It introduced a prototype in 2008 and released a later version at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. The software proved to be a hit with law enforcement, allowing the company to grow dramatically. Today, PlateSmart provides AI-based ALPR/vehicle recognition solutions serving hundreds of customers worldwide, including police and sheriff’s departments, military departments and installations, universities, hospitals, municipalities (including smart cities), and some of the largest technology company providers, including one of the largest computer chip manufacturers in the world and telecommunications giant NTT. In addition to security, many large retailers and commercial organizations can use the software for touchless payment, curbside pickup, and other revenue-generating applications. Those clients are not limited to North America, either. PlateSmart has installations in countries throughout the world. PlateSmart’s flagship software, PlateSmart ARES®, is an enterprise-wide solution (the first such enterprise-wide package introduced to the market), whereas the Powered by PlateSmart™ product is intended for OEMs looking to extend their product or system’s capabilities by adding vehicle recognition.
PlateSmart was founded in 2004, and it is based in Oldsmar, Florida.
In conversation with John Chigos, Founder and CEO of PlateSmart
Q. In some cases, bad weather and hindrances can be a challenge for automatic license plate recognition systems. How do you address this?
Thanks to AI and deep learning, PlateSmart can read plate and vehicle information that many others cannot. This includes plates covered in dirt or grime, temporary license plates that are not embossed, and plates surrounded by graphics, such as bumper stickers. The software can also read the plate anywhere within the frame, not just the center. At night, our software can read using either infrared lighting or white lighting. The company’s experience building software that can extract relevant data against a background of “noise” makes PlateSmart solutions viable where others are not.
Q. How is PlateSmart fighting crime and terrorism?
We have been working to help government agencies fight crime and terrorism. When deployed as part of a citywide surveillance solution, PlateSmart can alert authorities to plates associated with crimes, from simple thefts to AMBER alerts, when they pass a particular camera. This all happens in real-time, so law enforcement can take immediate action to apprehend the suspects. PlateSmart solutions can identify “casing” behavior typical of terrorism, such as circling a target. When a vehicle passes a point continuously in a short period of time, authorities can be notified so they can see if it is innocuous or a terrorist looking for weaknesses within a particular target. PlateSmart is deployed at military bases throughout the nation, and we have relationships with local, state, and federal agencies in the interest of thwarting crime and terrorism. I have personally consulted with federal law enforcement agencies and educated agencies around the world about the technology and its application.
Q. How do you market your services?
PlateSmart sells its software through security system integrators, directly to large enterprise clients, and via some channels that we are not at liberty to discuss publicly. We have partnerships with several key technology providers, including Milestone Systems and Axis Communications. We often exhibit with them at trade shows and work with their sales teams to help them understand how vehicle recognition technology can complement their services.
Q. Do you have any new services ready to be launched?
PlateSmart continues to capitalize upon our market leadership by targeting new market segments. We are diversifying our approach to better serve large fleets, which will mean deploying an in-house integration team. The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating touchless technology, for which ALPR is ideal. I’m talking about revenue generating projects like touchless payment, curbside pickup, etc. Additionally, we are exploring ways in which our vehicle recognition technology can be used to identify other objects, such as firearms. Finally, we expect to release a product for law enforcement that will be the first of its kind and should be quite a game-changer. It will provide a layer of protection for the officer as well as the driver of the vehicle they stop.
Meet the leader behind the success of PlateSmart
John Chigos, Cyclops Technologies’ (d/b/a PlateSmart Technologies) Founder and CEO, has been a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist for many years. As a result of his previously successful entrepreneurial career, he established Cyclops in 2004 as an R&D company, completely changing industry paradigms. He has an MBA and a J.D.