Secure vehicle access in residential estates

Issue 2 2020 Access Control & Identity Management

Despite the ‘protected’ environment, residential estates still experience loss of vehicles even though there are security measures in place. When security protocols are upgraded, to further address this issue, residents tend to be negatively impacted, for example, by long queues during peak traffic periods which in turn results in unnecessary frustration and loss of precious time.

Despite the ‘protected’ environment, residential estates still experience loss of vehicles even though there are security measures in place. When security protocols are upgraded, to further address this issue, residents tend to be negatively impacted, for example, by long queues during peak traffic periods which in turn results in unnecessary frustration and loss of precious time.

The question is, can technology offer a cost-effective solution that will provide both secure access control for vehicles and free-flow of traffic through the gates, even during peak traffic periods?

The answer is yes, however, a significant amount of information is required to ensure that these objectives are met. When searching for a solution, it is often useful to understand exactly what one should be looking for. In this case we can establish a need for the following.

Vehicle identification

Manual solutions for this generally require a security guard to scan the driver’s licence and the vehicle’s licence disc, and to conduct a physical security inspection to verify that the vehicle may enter or exit the premises if no suspicious or illegal activity is observed. A clear disadvantage is, of course, that this is a relatively time-consuming access control procedure. There is also a possibility of human error when conducting physical security checks, resulting in unnecessary losses.

With vehicle identification using ANPR systems, the number plate is read and linked to the vehicle in question. Aspects which are important include the ability to read number plates at acute angles, from all provinces, and fast enough to limit delays. Accuracy is of vital importance in such systems. Information such as the make, model and colour of the vehicle is required to avoid situations involving vehicle theft attempted through number plate swopping, visual obstruction and/or removal of number plates.

Many manufacturers offer ANPR cameras with varying levels of accuracy. A good system is able to identify and read numbers at acute angles, slightly soiled by dirt or dust as well as under poor lighting conditions.

Driver identification

There are several ways this can be achieved, ranging from mechanical devices, such as magnetic tags and RFID, to biometric solutions, such as fingerprint or facial identification. Mechanical tags, unfortunately, offer the possibility of being stolen as these are often left in the car for convenient access (both for the owner/driver and, unintentionally, for thieves).

Unfortunately, facial recognition solutions are costly at this stage, although there are more cost-effective solutions available that offer suitable results in specific environments. While cameras are able to detect faces through windows, there are many possible complications that may distort the view of the driver’s face, such as window reflections. At the very least, a system can capture an image of the driver’s face by the press of a button. Fingerprint scanning also requires the driver to open the window. A good system will ensure that the driver faces the camera when pressing the button to ensure that a clear image can be captured of the driver.

Information integration

While the above information can be used to allow/prevent automatic access or egress, additional measures can be implemented to alert gate personnel for added security benefits. These are available in the form of integration with third-party systems. To gain maximum benefit from any security system, information management is imperative.

Integrating the vehicle access management system with other security systems will enhance security. For example, if a visitor decides to steal a car, residents may alert the security guard on duty to cancel permission for that vehicle to exit the premises. This is only possible when different systems are able to communicate and share information.

What can new technology offer?

Firstly, ANPR systems can be ‘smart’. Using machine learning algorithms, their ability to detect numbers accurately, even with very poor images, is uncanny. A good system can read plates at high speed and at fairly acute angles. In addition, some systems can record the colour of the vehicle and even the make and model. By implementing the above, a vehicle can be identified automatically.

While manual scanning of vehicle licence discs and driver IDs, and linking these to the actual vehicle by using ANPR should provide sufficient results in terms of security, this remains a time-consuming exercise. Automation of the process through the inclusion of additional automatic readings, such as facial recognition and matching, can speed up the gate process dramatically.

The cost of ANPR at all gates could be costly, but some solutions offer centralised processing which reduce lane cost to only the cost of a reasonable camera, while offering the ability for system upgrades without the need for camera replacement. This generally is a much more cost-effective solution for large estates wishing to upgrade their security measures.

Automatic driver identification is slightly more challenging. Windscreen detection is generally the best solution and can be implemented by carefully controlling lighting in the gate area, allowing the system to detect and capture an image of the driver through the windscreen. Alternatively, forcing the driver to look into a camera can make manual driver identification by the security guard possible. The cost of automatic face identification may seem excessive, but given that very high accuracy may not be required, lower cost solutions could be implemented. Such solutions can use matching of captured images to pre-recorded images of residents’ faces, for example, significantly improving the practicality of these solutions.

Adding additional identification capabilities to a current security system may not require new hardware. Integrating a new ANPR system with, for example, the existing boom gates or cameras, can save costs on upgrading the security system while greatly improving its capabilities.

The ability to recognise vehicles against police and locally created databases can alert security staff to vehicles identified as suspicious, or against previously flagged numbers, allowing suitable reaction procedures to be executed. This capability is well-established in South Africa.

Operator user interface

For maximum benefit, a system should present alarms, activity and general information via a user-friendly interface that presents the information intuitively, while the display layout supports the state of the system. When there is an alarm, all relevant information must be shown. During general monitoring, only basic activity and statistics should be shown and when under management supervision, the appropriate statistics and report generation features should be available.

A very important aspect of such systems is the ability to analyse data. A good system will not only log the entries and provide access, it will also include analysis of the entry frequency, time of movement and other relevant and useful information. This information may be used to determine access times that are out of the norm and could thereby increase the focus of security personnel. Further security measures can then be implemented in addition to the automated systems to allow maximum security benefits.

Local support

Another aspect to consider is the origin of the solution. In today’s world, many providers provide solutions at highly competitive prices. However, when considering solutions to problems that are unique to South Africa, local service providers are generally more adept at developing and modifying solutions to suit these particular needs. It is generally not the components, such as cameras or computers, but the integration and management software that separate the men from the boys.

By choosing the correct product, understanding its capabilities as well as your own needs, it is possible to obtain secure and convenient vehicle access management solutions.

Dr Coetzer can be contacted at Protoclea Advanced Image Engineering (, – a company specialising in the development of products such as those described in this article.

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