“Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light,” Sting once crooned in one of the greatest hits by his band, the Police. Of course, the phrase “red light” has a certain connotation. Today, the Police and the police alike might sing “you better watch out for the red light” instead. This has always been the case, something everyone learned in Driving 101. But today’s use of red light cameras makes it imperative that you stop or face a fine or worse.
Caught In The Act
I got caught for the first time while I was visiting my son and his family in Tennessee. I had rented a car while down there and was returning it to the airport. Nothing transpired at the time, but a couple of weeks later, I received a notice in the mail from Avis, the car rental company I had used.
The letter said that I owed Avis $25 for access to their database by the city of Gallatin. I did not fully comprehend the charge, but I did notice a line about a red light violation. There was no evidence to back up the claim, though. I tossed the letter to the side.
A week later, I received a notice from the city of Gallatin, telling me that I had run a red light and was subject to a $50 fine. As evidence, the notice had two thumbnail photos of a red Chevrolet HHR turning into an intersection.
The car was easy enough to recognize as the one I had rented, but the redness of the traffic signal was not clear from the photo as far as I could tell. I looked at it as closely, but could not say for sure what the color of the light was.
Wow, I thought, they sure do take liberties with this system. But then I noticed a URL at the bottom of the page, indicating where I could watch the video of the infraction. This I have to see, I thought. I went over to my computer, punched in the URL, and saw the thumbnail from the letter. I clicked on it and the video began to play.
I saw my car in the turn lane, heading for the intersection, and watched as the light clearly turned from green to yellow to red as I approached and made the turn. There was no doubt about it, the light had turned red while I was still in the turn lane, but I made the turn anyway. Guilty as charged!
What fascinated me was the clarity of the video and the fact that someone out there was clipping these videos from a stream that must be hours and hours long and posting to this site—just for the offender (me) to view! What a neat system. Since I was so intent on watching the light, I didn’t notice if the license plate was easily readable, too, but it must have been.
Traffic Control, British Style
When I visited Wales recently for the S2K conference, a couple of other journalists and myself were driven from London Heathrow to Cardiff, Wales. During that ride, I learned that the U.S. is a long way behind in monitoring its citizens for traffic infractions. I noticed quite a few cameras on the highway to Wales and asked our driver about them.
He told me that they were being used to monitor vehicle speed. If you drive even a minimal amount over the speed limit, he said, you will find a speeding ticket in your mail shortly after. This is really sophisticated, I thought. In this case, not only is the system taking the video, but speed measurements are being made among multiple cameras as well.
When we arrived in Wales, red light cameras were ubiquitous. The difference between the system in Wales and the one here (or at least in Gallatin or in New York, where I live) is that there are red light signs to warn you about the system.
Machine Vision Marches On
When I read about new sensors, such as Omnivision’s recent OV2710, I think about how fast the cost of high-definition video is coming down, just like many other technologies in the electronics industry. The OV2710 is meant for consumer applications, not industrial, but it points out the state of the art. It’s a native 1080p high-definition CMOS image sensor, unlike some competitive sensors.
We’ve covered machine vision and video processing several times over the past couple of years. Contributing Editor Roger Allan tackled industrial video cameras in the May 8, 2008 issue in “Would You Believe…? Machine Vision Gets Smarter”. Among other things, he mentioned the European Machine Vision Association (EMVA) GenICam standard for cameras, transport layer interfaces, and software.
Contributing editor Rich Quinnell wrote about digital video processing and analysis our July 23, 2009 issue in “Smarter Video Analysis Techniques Mine More Data”. In his article, he described Texas Instruments’ C674x DSP family, which includes a video port that provides dual input and output channels for use in analytics and other video applications.
I don’t know if these devices or standards will wind up in traffic control systems of the future. These systems are getting cheaper and more powerful, though, which are the ingredients needed to add a camera to every intersection with a traffic light.