IR imaging could end flat road-congestion charges

JULY 26, 2007--Dtect, developed by optical engineering experts at Vehicle Occupany, a Loughborough University spinout, can be used for scenarios where multiple occupancy could attract lower fees.

JULY 26, 2007--A new infrared imaging system that automatically counts the number of people in moving vehicles could offer a simple and cost-effective solution to help lower carbon emissions and congestion in the UK. Demand for innovative ways to encourage vehicle sharing is particularly acute in major cities, as only 20% of the road capacity is used by multiple occupancy vehicles. With 80% of vehicles occupied only by the driver, congestion charge zones and toll gates are an increasingly common feature on Britain's traffic black spots. But unless vehicle occupants can be easily counted, it is impossible to implement variable charging to encourage more journeys to be shared.

Dtect, a new technology developed by optical engineering experts at Vehicle Occupany (VOL; www.vehicalocupancy.com), a Loughborough University spinout formed in 2004 to commercialize the Dtect technology, can be used for a variety of scenarios where multiple occupancy could attract lower fees, such as congestion zones; toll roads, bridges, and tunnels; high-occupancy vehicle lanes; and car parks. It illuminates the moving vehicle's windscreen without distracting the occupants and then processes images using a patented formula to detect the number of occupants. Occupant identity and vehicle registration can be stored in case penalties need enforcing, otherwise this information is data protected. The process takes a fraction of a second, and results can either be integrated into a larger automated traffic management system or transmitted to a remote terminal.

Avingtrans Plc (www.avingtrans.plc.uk), which own Crown UK, a UK supplier of roadside camera housings, has recently made a major investment into the Loughborough technology. Says John Tyrer, Loughborough inventor and director of VOL, "Flat rate charges are not the answer to congestion and the resultant pollution. Getting more people to share their journeys can only happen with incentives like variable charging. We have developed the step change technology to make this happen and Avingtrans/Crown has the credibility to incorporate it into the market."

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