18 August 2020

Lightbar-integrated cameras require compromises that do not suit everyone

These are the main pitfalls of integrating smart police vehicle technologies into lightbars.

Automatic Licence Plate Reading (ALPR) cameras installed in police vehicles and able to read the licence plates of passing vehicles are one of the most useful technologies demonstrably helping police to resolve car thefts and other serious crimes.

Initially these systems were mounted almost exclusively on the outside of vehicles. This was mainly due to technological reasons so to avoid possible reflection and the absorption of infrared light emitted by ALPR cameras located behind glass. On the other hand, installing hardware on the inside always makes it more discreet and better protected against dirt and damage. This is why in recent years some police customers have been interested in interior solutions, even if such solutions have limitations.

Technologies hidden in the lightbar

Another alternative to mounting cameras on the vehicle exterior is to integrate them into the lightbars. If a supplier manages to solve potential technical problems, such as those related to light reflections from beacons or the risk of overheating the integrated technologies, such a compact solution may look sexy at first glance and appear to have several advantages:

– Nothing protrudes from the roof and hence nothing is in the way.

– Installation looks simple – just replace the light bar, which you can potentially fit with cameras, a computer, or a radar.

– Lightbars can also be fitted with cameras for viewing the sides of the vehicle, which is often a problem with other installation methods.

– This eliminates the aforementioned technical problems associated with interior installation.

Not surprisingly, the idea of integrating cameras into lightbars has recently been experimented on with an increasing number of vendors supplying the technology to help police streamline and digitize their work. Some companies have even bet exclusively on such solutions and they basically supply them as package products. As a result, customers have few options for customization to make the product fit their specific needs, which may turn out to be a problem.

The disadvantages of standardisation

Manufacturers striving to create a standardised product, and thus achieve economies of scale, must decide how many cameras and what type of technologies should be integrated into the lightbar. Naturally, such an arrangement does not suit every customer.

For example, some police units may only want to have a front view, while others may want to record a 360-degree view around the vehicle. Also, some police units may only want to read licence plates, while others may also want speed detection cameras as part of their system.

The second issue with unified solutions is that police in different countries have different standards for lightbars. In each country, the colour and intensity of police signal lights are slightly different, and so are the standards for visibility from various angles. To meet all these different standards with a single type of a lightbar is therefore extremely difficult.

Another disadvantage of technologies integrated into lightbars may be the increase in weight. This can lead to potentially high kinetic energy in the event of a vehicle collision, which may be dangerous.

Flexibility before versatility

The idea of integrating the technology into lightbars is also something that has been intensively examined by the Mosy team. For a selected group of customers, especially those requiring extremely comprehensive solutions with many cameras and multiple technologies, Mosy is ready to integrate cameras, computers, and other technologies to help police streamline their work.

However, every customer has different needs, requirements and operating conditions as well as different budgetary constraints. For police units that need to expand their fleet with conventional smart vehicles with two or four ALPR cameras, the integration of technologies into lightbars is proving to be a more difficult and less flexible option, offering limited adaptability to their specific requirements.