What is automated number-plate recognition?

Take an in depth look at what automated number-plate recognition also known as ANPR is all about.

ANPR (Automated Number Plate Recognition) means optical recognition of a license plate to e.g. allow vehicle access to a car park. ALPR (Automated License Plate Recognition), LPR (License Plate Reader), NPR (Number Plate Recognition) in common practice mean the same thing.

ANPR is not a new invention. Previous versions date back to the 1970s or 1980s. Despite this, the commercialisation of ANPR technology for public use has only recently materialised. Today ANPR is used globally across different industries.

In its simplest form, ANPR is a piece of software that scans and identifies number plates with an algorithm from either a video feed or still pictures and provides the user results of the recognition to another application that then uses it for the intended purpose. The purpose of ANPR has remained the same. Today register plate readers are advanced technically and functionality-wise.

“The most advanced ANPR systems are self-learning and thus adaptable to local circumstances providing superior value over static recognition systems.

The rise of artificial intelligence and edge computing allows faster and more accurate recognition. ANPR technology identifies blurry plates and can operate in environments that have earlier been impossible to use such technology. The most advanced ANPR systems are self-learning and thus adaptable to local circumstances providing superior value over static recognition systems.

With open APIs, the software can communicate with almost any external system, such as parking management, barriers, consumer parking applications, access control and locking systems etc. Technological advancements combined with the affordable price tag of today’s ALPR technology enable applying the ANPR almost anywhere and to any use case (read more of different use cases).

Typical applications of the register plate recognition

There is a vast range of applications around ALPR. The register plate is an identifier for a vehicle, and thus the plate recognition data works as the basis for any use case where vehicles are present. Here are a few well-known use contexts of ANPR


There was a time when all parking garages required physical parking tickets, card and cash payment machines. In the beginning, ANPR smoothened the car park visitor experience by allowing customers to drive out after paying without feeding the ticket into the barrier system. Back then, existing systems were clumsy and required barriers and other external equipment to stop the vehicle for plate recognition and trigger the ANPR camera to take the pictures.

Today, registered users of a car park may drive in and out as they like, then the parking fees are billed from their mobile application based on the register plate recognition.
Aside from the plain access management of parking and the ability to bill, the ANPR system has other use cases, such as helping to find their car. You can detect vehicles driving between floors or garage sections, helping to locate the car.

Premise access control

Production sites, factories, logistics hubs, offices and countless other premises have restricted areas where authorised people and vehicles can enter. Advanced ANPR software can independently open barriers and lift doors for white-listed vehicles, and keep a log of all the incoming and outgoing traffic.

Service experience automation

There is a range of services used when driving a car. In many cases, the ANPR works as the basis for streamlining the service process and the customer experience by reducing unnecessary tasks. For example, refueling at a gas station or charging an electric vehicle is initiated based on license plate recognition. Also, picking up groceries or a parcel becomes convenient when the ANPR identifies an arriving customer. A staff member can carry the goods to the car.

What to look for in ANPR products?

There is a vast range of ANPR solutions available in the market. Unfortunately, finding the few gems amongst the bulk products might be difficult. When searching for the most suitable ALPR for your needs, it is necessary to pay attention to the following.

1. Recognition accuracy

Often the algorithms are trained with small sets of pictures for each target country and plate type. These recognition solutions provide average recognition results and face challenges when applied to challenging environments. False recognitions (or non-recognitions) result in increased costs, lost revenue and customer dissatisfaction. It is recommended to have a self-learning solution that provides high accuracy, adapts to your location, and learns new plate models when needed.

2. Maintainability

When your operations rely on an ANPR solution, the system must be quick and easy to repair. Malfunctions that cause business interruptions are costly. When an ANPR system is not working as it should, the problem could be with the camera device, network bandwidth, video quality, external connections, integrations, or somewhere else. A good solution allows you to identify the problem quickly or even prevent them from happening.

3. Integrations to 3rd party systems and API’s

In many cases, the ANPR is not a stand-alone solution. It needs to connect to barrier systems, parking management systems, payment applications, locking systems or somewhere else. Having the integrations provided as part of the ANPR solution is a must.

4. The total cost of ownership

Costs to consider and calculate correctly when choosing an ANPR solution (or parking solution overall)
  • Cost to implement the system: Including the physical installation work, software installation and configuration, and testing. Older ANPR solutions require e.g. induction loops mounted in the asphalt to detect an arriving car before the license plate is detected.
  • Maintenance and service call costs: A service call cost can easily be more than 100 €, and in large-scale operations, the total costs can be very high. An excellent ANPR product provides diagnostics that reduce unnecessary service calls, reduce the time to fix, and even prevent malfunctions.
  • Hosting and computing cost: Cloud and edge computing software has developed massively during the last years and is very cost-efficient compared to running ANPR in traditional data centres or old-fashioned local servers. The cost can drop even tens of percentages when modern technology is present.
  • Hardware costs: There are two trends taking place. Firstly, everything becomes software-based, software is cost-efficient and adaptive for future needs compared to a hardware system. Secondly, the competition in the parking equipment and hardware is fierce, and prices are decreasing. A software-based system gives you more freedom to choose between hardware and equipment. You will save a significant amount of money by being able to opt-in for low-cost cameras instead of expensive ANPR cameras.

5. Extensibility

Is the solution only for ANPR, or does it do something else? Most advanced solutions can e.g. count vehicles, perform area/security surveillance, provide data to guide visitors to available slots, and perform other tasks that you may need for the future.

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