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RFID-enabled license plates to identify UK vehicles

RFID News | June 10 2004

The UK-based vehicle licence plate manufacturer, Hills Numberplates Ltd, has chosen long-range RFID tags and readers from Identec Solutions to be embedded in licence plates that will automatically and reliably identify vehicles in the UK.

The new e-Plates project uses active (battery powered) RFID tags embedded in the plates to identify vehicles in real time. The result is the ability to reliably identify any vehicle, anywhere, whether stationary or mobile, and - most importantly - in all weather conditions. (Previous visually-based licence plate identification techniques have been hampered by factors such as heavy rain, mist, fog, and even mud or dirt on the plates.)

The e-Plates project has been under development for the past three years at a cost of more than £1 million, and is currently under consideration by a number of administrations. It is hoped that e-Plate will be one of the systems trialled by the UK Government in its forthcoming study of micro-chipped licence plates.

Chipped plates
The plates are the same shape and size as conventional plates, and are permanently fitted to the vehicle in the same way. But each e-Plate contains an embedded tag with a unique, encrypted identification number that is transmitted by the tag for detection by RFID readers. Multiple tags can be read simultaneously by a single reader at speeds of up to 320km per hour (200mph), up to 100 metres (300 feet) away.

The reader network, which includes fixed location readers (for use on the roadside) and portable readers (for use in surveillance vehicles and handheld devices), sends the unique identifier in real time to a central system where it is matched with the corresponding vehicle data such as registration number, owner details, make, model, colour, and tax/insurance renewal dates.

Identities secured
A key benefit of the e-Plate is that the tag provides an encrypted and secure ID code which is registered in the UK Ministry of Transport's vehicle database. This code prevents tampering, cloning, or other forms of fraud that can currently happen with camera-based systems. Additionally, the e-Plate is designed to shatter if anyone tries to remove or otherwise tamper with it, and the tag can be programmed to transmit a warning if any attempt is made to dislodge the plate.

Surveillance applications
The system is expected to be used to identify vehicles for applications such as security, access control, electronic payment, tracking and processing, traffic management, and customer service. Commercial applications could include car dealerships, rental companies, insurance companies, fleet operators, and parking garages. In the public sector, the main applications would include enforcement (compliance with road tax, insurance, and mechanical checks), access control to restricted areas, combating vehicle theft and associated crime, and traffic flow counting and modelling.

According to Richard Taffinder, operations director for Hills Numberplates, the e-Plates were developed to provide companies and public authorities with a more reliable way to positively identify and capture information on a vehicle.

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