Government agencies across the land may have found a way to ensure that vehicles traveling in carpool lanes are carrying the required amount of passengers. Until now, attempts to create an automated vehicle occupancy detection system have not reached the level of accuracy needed during testing to be effective. An agency in San Diego, California believes they have found an Automated Vehicle Passenger Detection system developed by Xerox that is effective.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports on the new system being tested by the San Diego Association of Governments, which targets carpool-lane scofflaws:
Documents obtained by CBS 8 reporter David Gotfredson show that Xerox’s system uses two cameras to capture the front and side views of a car’s interior. Then “video analytics” and “geometric algorithms” are used to detect whether the seats are occupied.
When the detection system’s computer determines a driver is improperly traveling in the carpool lane, the cameras instantly send photos of the car’s interior and its license plate to the California Highway Patrol.
In short: the technology is looking at your image, the image of the people you’re with, your location, and your license plate. (SANDAG told CBS the systems will not be storing license plate data during the trial phase and the system will, at least for now, automatically redact images of drivers and passengers. Xerox’s software, however, allows police the option of using a weaker form of redaction that can be reversed on request.)
Xerox’s Automated Vehicle Passenger Detection systems can be mounted in permanent locations, such as freeway gantries, or attached to mobile trailers that “can be moved around, in order to keep potential violators honest.“
The system is touted by Xerox to have a 95-99% accuracy rate, with vehicles traveling up to 100 mph. This is a significant increase in accuracy compared to similar systems developed and tested in previous years.
In 2013 Xerox’s technology was tested in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the Mackay Bridge. During that test run the detection system captured 250,000 images of drivers in a time period of less than two weeks. Xerox asserted that the technology had a 98.9% success rate determining front seat passengers and a 96.2% rate for rear seat passengers.
At their November 2014 investor conference, Xerox made known their desire to be a major player in the Vehicle Passenger Detection market. Here’s a portion of their release to investors:
The Vehicle Passenger Detection System was created using research developed originally for the company’s imaging and technology business; and the company entered a major partnership to develop advanced solutions with the University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center aimed at revolutionizing the movement of people and goods worldwide.
Privacy advocates are quick to vilify this type of technology by calling it an invasion of privacy and claiming it expands the surveillance state. But it is important to clarify that the technology itself does not violate individual rights or invade privacy. Rights are only violated when surveillance technology, such as Vehicle Passenger Detection Systems, is utilized by a government without consent.
If we lived in a more free society in which more people understood and embraced property rights, it would be possible for individuals or groups of individuals to own roadways. In this set-up a single property owner or coalition of property owners could lawfully choose to use these new surveillance technologies to monitor use of roadways, highways, or any other places vehicles may travel.
These technologies could even be used to determine fees to be charged for usage of the roadway. It’s not hard to imagine a privatized system of highways that operate fully on the consent of the users and charge vehicles a fee based on the number of passengers traveling in the vehicle. The cameras could detect the number of passengers in the vehicle and charge a higher rate to those with fewer passengers. The same principle could be used during rush hour. Operators could apply some downward pressure to freeway usage during peak hours by increasing rates during times of frequent congestion and decreasing rates outside of rush hour to encourage traffic patterns that minimize delays.
The technology is not the enemy. In fact, the technology is necessary to progress society forward. The enemy is the coercive methods currently used to enforce these systems.
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