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Since as early as 1970\u2019s, the need of anAutomatic License Plate Recognition system (ALPR) has arose based on the needto implement law enforcement andtra\ufb03c control on transportation systems. This area has motivated a large amount of research e\ufb00ort, and various approaches and solutions have been proposed and implemented. Existing ALPR systems typically consist of modules addressing the following three tasks: license plate localization, character segmentation, and character recognition. In this paper, a novel ALPR system is proposed where a new de-skewing stage is added between license plate localization and character segmentation stages. This new stage allow the systemto process images that are taken at an angle with respect to the LP\u2019s normal andfrom a relatively close distance, which typically results in skew distortion. The additional stage ensures that the characters are all lined up in a horizontal line with the same height, which allows precise character segmentation; furthermore, it recti\ufb01es the characters and allows simple recognition techniques such as cross-correlation to yield good classi\ufb01cation results. In addition to the de-skewing stage, a license plate localization method is also proposed. It shares some common ground with the current approaches, as it is based on vertical edge density. Note that images with complicated edge backgrounds have been a common problem for algorithms that use an edge density approach, while the new localization method has a success rate of 86.4% based on a database of 822 images. While at this point in time the prototype system\u2019s LP recognition accuracy at 12.3% is not practical, several of its rudimentary technique employed could be exchanged for more sophisticated and e\ufb00ective ones and thus improving system performance signi\ufb01cantly in future e\ufb00orts. However, this work demonstrates that the de-skewing process can be signi\ufb01cantly advantageous.
Since 1970\u2019s, the need of an automatic license plate recognition system, sometimes referred asALPR, has been increasing. In speci\ufb01c, ALPR systems are being used in conjunction with various transportation systems in application areas such as law enforcement (e.g. speed limit enforcement) and commercial usages such as parking enforcement and automatic toll payment. A practical ALPR system typically contains the following phases. First, it has to be able to locate the license plate, even in complicated backgrounds; thus, preprocessing of the input image is required to improve the performance on subsequent stages (character segmentation and character recognition). The second stage addresses the successful localization of region of characters. Moreover, an important step in this phase is the segmentation of each character, preparing it for the recognition phase. The last stage of the ALPR system aims to successfully recognize the characters of the license plate.
(using aHop\ufb01eld Network), where the input image was a color image containing the license plate, and reported results of 97.23% out of 400 images. In Arth et al.,5 the input to the system considered a video stream, processed in real-time. The localization phase performed by the method proposed by Viola et al.6 using AdaBoost and aOne-versus-All Support Vector Machine4 approach for character classi\ufb01cation with direct segmented pixel values as input. The reported result was 96% complete recognition of license plates. The system proposed in Chang et al.,7 was tested on 1088 color images containing Taiwanese license plates and used color information (based on the colors of the Taiwanese license plates) to localize the license plate. Finally, it used aKohonen\u2019s
classify each segment. Reported results show the system\u2019s performance at 93.7%. In Draghici et al.,9 a video camera located at a \ufb01xed point and a frame grabber were used to collect the grayscale images containing the license plates. The localization of the license plate is based on the assumption that the contrast between the background (license plate) and foreground (letters) is signi\ufb01cant, and by scanning it horizontally, it looks for repeating contrast changes. For recognition, it uses a neural network based on Constraint Based Decomposition (CBD) training architecture, also described in Draghici.9 Results reported on the performance of the character recognition stage are 98%, and 80% on the overall performance of the system.
In this paper, a novel ALPR system is proposed. Its localization phase consist on a variation of Zheng\u2019s10 method. Also, a LP de-skewing stage is considered that removes the potential distortion due to perspective projection. Our character segmentation method is based on the background\foreground separation between characters and license plate background and is accomplished by horizontal and vertical histograms of the pixels, for segmenting character regions. Finally, a character recognition phase, based on cross-correlation scores between the characters segmented and prototype characters of each class (0 - 9, A - Z;) is adopted. The input to this system consisted on 822 pictures with United States license plates (mostly of the state of Florida) capturedwith a digital camera at di\ufb00erent angles with respect to the normal vector of the license plate. As for the performance of the system, the localization phase was robust enough to perform better compared to Zheng\u2019s10 method. The de-skewing phase still needs improvement, since the assumptionmade on this phase is not always true. Moreover, the character segmentation phase needs more image preprocessing steps to eliminate noise, due to blurring and background complexity. As for the character recognition phase, preliminary results are very favorable.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows. An overview of the system andthe literature review is discussed on Section2. The description of the proposed approach is discussed on Section3. Experimental results of the proposed approach are shown on Section4. The discussion of experimental results are presented on Section5 and a brief conclusion is presented on Section6.
As mentioned in the Introduction, research in License Plate Recognition (LPR) started as early as the 70\u2019s. Since then there has been much research activity in LPR. While the approaches and implementations vary, the LPR problem can be viewed as a sequence of basic processing stages as shown in Fig.1.
The \ufb01rst processing stage deals with locating, even approximately, the position of the LP within the image under consideration. We refer to this stage asLP localization. It is assumed that an entire LP is portrayed in the image and, therefore, no detection stage is necessary. Also, this assumption precludes partial depiction of the LP in the image, either due to occlusion or inappropriate framing. Locating the LP amounts to identify the sub-image containing the full LP with as little extra background as possible. This localization step is necessary, because it greatly reduces the complexity of locating and, subsequently, segmenting the characters that make up the LP.
Figure 1. Conceptual block diagram of the main processing stages of a typical License Plate Recognition system. The input image containing a single LP is provided and the system \ufb01rst locates an as small as possible sub-image containing the LP. Next, individual characters are located and isolated from the remaining LP elements. Once features have been extracted fromthe isolated characters, each resulting pattern is being classi\ufb01ed. Eventually, the system responds with the recognized LP string.
Finally, the last stage primarily deals with recognizing individual characters and, thus, the LPitself as a string of ASCII characters. To that e\ufb00ect, appropriate discriminatory features have to be extracted from each isolated character. The derived patterns are then fed to a pre-trained classi\ufb01cation module that assigns each pattern to a single character class. In the case of typical US LPs, there would be 36 di\ufb00erent classes, which include a class label for \u201cunknown character \u201d. For a LP to be correctly recognized, all of its characters must be segmented and identi\ufb01ed correctly. Fig.2 displays the required probability of correct character recognitionPC as a function of the desired probability of correct LP string recognitionPLP for a variety of LP string sizes (n= 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). The illustrated plots are based on the assumption that errors in recognizing individual characters are i.i.d. random variables and thatPLP= PCn. We notice that in order for longer LP strings to be recognized correctly a high accuracy of recognizing individual characters is mandated. What makes LP character recognition less complex than the general text recognition problem, is that LP characters are always printed, capital and of the same or very similar typeface. Therefore, LP character features can be simpler in nature than their counterparts in text recognition applications. However, due to the occasional e\ufb00ects of perspective projection, features may still have to be relatively robust to such image distortions.
While there are various implementations for solving the LP localization problem, these approaches mainly involve taking advantage of color information (such as hue values) and/or rely on appropriate edge detection. For example, for color images, Park et al.11 used time-delay neural networks to locate LPs. The neural networks are used as \ufb01lters for analyzing small windows of an image and deciding whether each window contains an LP. Their inputs are HSI values, and a post-processor combines these \ufb01ltered images and locates the bounding boxes of license plates in the image. The problem of relying on license plate color properties is that the system would tend to be speci\ufb01c to particular types of plates and, thus, lack in generality. It would also have di\ufb03culties with cars that have the same color as the license plate. On the other hand, based on the assumption that the grayscale value in the license plate region usually varies more frequently than in the background due to the existence of characters, Cao et al.12 proposed a method that uses the spatial frequency characteristic to roughly localize the LP. Subsequently, more accurate localization is achieved using color information.
Another observation is that LP regions are characterizedby high, local densityof vertical edges. Abolghasemi and Ahmadyfard13 used morphological \ufb01ltering to locate candidate rectangle shape regions of dense edge concentration; however, this methodtends to locate multiple candidate regions, and it requires prior information to reject the non-LP regions. Bai et al.14 used a very similar approach, except that, instead of the speci\ufb01c rectangular shape, they considered all connected edge components as candidate region, with an additional step of combining close, vertical aligned regions. Again, the method requires prior information to select the correct LP region. In Zheng et al.,10 a much simpler approach is taken under the assumption that candidate LP regions
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