Below is a post the content of a blog from puretechsystems.com on video based vehicle counting.  I’m always interested in counting objects and find myself using my company’s Sense Traffic Pulse Intelligent Video Analytic application to test the accuracy of what I attempt to do manually.  I guess the habit of counting cars passing along my street as a kid remains with me.

Sense Traffic Pulse counting cars at high speeds image

Sense Traffic Pulse counting cars at high speeds.

Many industries and businesses have the need, or the want, to accurately count vehicles. This may support traffic management, increased parking revenue, customer or employee satisfaction, improve safety / security or perhaps as a metric to measure consumer behavior. When seeking out a counting solution, they look for the following:

Accuracy to enable increased revenue, high levels of customer satisfaction, ensure safety of customers and their vehicles or secure customer trust in the system.
Robust capability to operate 24 hours a day / 7 days a week in all types of weather and lighting
Intelligence to understand various types of vehicles and not be confused by people or bicycles.
Open Architecture to integrate with other enterprise systems
Affordable with use of off the shelf sensors and reuse of existing infrastructure.
Flexible installation options to address locations that may have power or communication challenges, or support temporary venues through the use or temporary deployments.

Many systems exist to aggregate and report on counting data, but the sensors traditionally used to collect that data prove to be either too expensive, too unreliable or difficult to install. For over a decade, PureTech Systems has applied its video analytics expertise to perimeter protection situations. When presented with the counting need being raised by universities and other large venues, it was quickly determined that video would be a very effective and cost efficient sensor for counting vehicles in these situations.

Accurate Counting with Video

A key component to any counting solution is accuracy, especially when that count is used for a parking management type application. According to an IBM survey, drivers globally spend an average of nearly 20 minutes per trip in pursuit of a parking space. After 20 minutes of searching for a parking space, a customer does not want information that there is a spot available, only to search the entire lot and find that this is not the case. The result is a miserable customer experience and a low satisfaction rating.

Accurate Counting with video can aid with parking lot safety
Accurate counting can help ensure the safety of customers and their property.

In addition to keeping constituents happy with the parking experience, businesses with parking management responsibilities also need to ensure people’s safety and protection of their assets. The longer it takes a driver to find a parking spot, the more likely they are to park inappropriately or illegally. This is made worse by the fact that parking issues tend to be governed by the First Law of Compounding Stupidity, which states that if a single person or group does something stupid (as show in the figure to the right) the likelihood of other persons or groups performing similar stupid acts will increase exponentially.

Applying counting algorithms to video has proved to be extremely accurate, especially in short-range applications, including parking lots and garages. The higher levels of accuracy over traditional counting sensors greatly improves customer satisfaction, with some installations experiencing daily complaints drop to zero. It allows lot managers to operate at a fuller capacity, which can increase parking revenue and help accommodate the maximum number of potential parkers.

Robust Performance

Many counting situations remain relevant 24 hours a day / 7 days a week, in all types of weather and lighting conditions. From parking lots, to remote gates or roadway monitoring. From a counting perspective, this can be especially problematic for outdoor locations subjected to all types of weather. Similarly, budget and city codes affect lighting coverage of these areas.

Video based counting can accommodate these challenges using such features as background modeling, to ignore environmental factors such as rain, falling snow, reflections from headlights and even moving vegetation. These algorithms operate in conditions where the vehicle can be “seen”, which means in most cases, non-specialized cameras and existing lighting will suffice.

For no light facilities, thermal and low light cameras have become very affordable options. Video-based counting systems can utilize these sensors in areas with low light, or no light, and provide very accurate counting data.

Counting Intelligently

Video Based Vehicle Counting – Ignoring bikes and People
Counting systems must have the intelligence to count only those targets of interest, for example cars, while ignoring bicycles and pedestrians.

Another challenge with non-video counting sensors is the ability to “intelligently” count. They are often confused when encountering different types of objects, including cars, trucks, people, motorcycles or bicycles. For most applications, users are only interested in those vehicles which will potentially take a parking spot (Car, Trucks) or a position on a roadway and want to ignore those objects with may pass through, but don’t constitute a “vehicle” (people, bicycles, etc.). Through a feature called “classification,” video counting places objects into segments, such as car, person, animal, bicycle, etc. This allows the software to “count” only those items classified as vehicles and ignore those objects that may be common in the area, but are not of interest for the total count. When situations dictate, the classes of objects can be counted, to understand what type of transportation is being used in the area (cars, pedestrians, bicycles, etc).

Synergy with Existing Systems

Many industries have the need for counting, including universities, entertainment venues, airports, seaports, hospitals, convention centers and even public offices and municipalities. It stands to reason that each industry has their preferred method to report, display and disperse this type of information. Video-based counting is a very synergistic approach to this variability, typically acting as a stand-alone sensor providing simple count data to an enterprise system, such as a security system, parking management console or access control system. This system then aggregates and communicates the resulting state to operators, employees or customers. Transfer of the data between the counting sensor and the enterprise system is typically xml, but can be as simple as a discrete signal output. The information content of the count can also vary based on the sophistication of the management system, from a simple count to a count with many attributes, such as, object type, object speed, object location, etc.

Video-based counting system diagram
Video-based counting acts as a sensor within an existing enterprise as shown in this example system.

Affordable

Affordability is a key requirement for counting systems. Often times, there are multiple counting locations, which may be located over a very large in physical area. This can prove expensive when buying and installing custom counting sensors. Video-based counting can be very affordable through the use of commercial cameras, which have the ability to double as a security sensor. Likewise, existing security camera feeds may be suitable for counting, which would require no additional hardware or installation cost.

Flexible Installation Options

Video-Based Counting is easily self- contained and deployable to temporary or remote locations.
Video-Based Counting is easily self- contained and deployed to temporary or remote locations.

A video-based counting solution also affords a great amount of installation flexibility. This is especially true in situations where the installation of the infrastructure (power, communications, etc.) is extensive due to the size of the parking area, or its remote location. Still other businesses have the need to set up overflow lots, or temporary parking for one-time events or special high demand timeframes. In these cases, installing a camera counting system along with communication capability facilitates a quick and effective means to provide accurate counting for these types of temporary lots.

Additionally, moving a counting zone is as easy as making a few changes in the software to accommodate a new zone in an existing camera view, or repointing the camera and defining a new counting zone. Changing counting zones utilizing in-ground sensors, or beam-break devices, typically requires uninstalling and then reinstalling sensors at the new zone entrance and exit.

More Than Just Counting

It is important to mention that the application of intelligence to video is a fast growing technology. In addition to counting, a camera enabled with video analytics can likely provide other pieces of valuable data, based on the selected software solution. Some related capabilities include the ability to detect vehicle speed, regardless of the vehicles direction of travel or distance from the camera. Furthermore, video can detect stopped vehicles, vehicles in a no parking area, vehicles that have been in a loading zone for too long, or indicate that a person has been loitering in the area for an extended period. A video-based solution can also help provide trends in vehicle versus bicycle or pedestrian traffic.

CONCLUSION

Utilizing intelligent video to gain insights into business operations is becoming more and more prevalent across all markets. Video is readily available, cost effective and results in very accurate data. This is equally true when considering its use as a counting sensor for parking management operations. Video-based counting is

Extremely accurate
Robust in a range of lighting and weather conditions
Provides intelligence to understand vehicle types
Is affordable and supports a variety of installation options
Easily integrates into existing enterprise systems.
Video-Based Vehicle Counting User Interface
Video-Based Vehicle Counting is affordable, accurate, intelligent and integrates easily into other enterprise systems.