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Israeli container ID solution keeps American ports and rails safe

Posted By Allison Kaplan Sommer On March 20, 2005 @ 9:00 pm In | No Comments

The Hi-Tech Solutions systems can read camera images and extract the identification data, with the recognition result then logged together with the images and entered into a computer.Coming and going isn’t as easy as it used to be. In a post-September 11 world, with concerns that weaponry can be hidden in any kind of container and vehicle, governments and private companies want to keep track of the movement of containers on the move as carefully as they possibly can.

Quick, effective identification of cars entering crowded or sensitive location, crates and containers being shipped in and out of ports and stations in major population centers, has become crucial – both for security reasons and in order to keep the costs of moving the goods reasonable.

Israeli system and software company Hi-Tech Solutions is in the front lines of keeping population centers safe, with its optical character recognition (OCR) solutions which use advanced image processing software and hardware.

Their SeeContainer system is already in place and working in southern California, where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has installed it for the central station where all rail cars leaving the Los Angeles region branch out to the major railroads across the United States.

Founded in 1992, Hi-Tech Solutions spent eight years developing its OCR technology before its products hit the market in 2000. It’s all based on computer vision, according to the company’s president and CEP Phil Elovic. Their systems can read camera images and extract the identification data, with the recognition result then logged together with the images and entered into a computer.

“First we developed our recognition technology and then we found our two niches – reading license plates and containers,” Elovic told ISRAEL21c.

The company’s products are grouped into two main product lines: the SeeContainer and the SeeCar recognition systems.

SeeCar product line is a set of vision-based license plate recognition systems that detect and read vehicle license plates for security purposes – but also for, parking lot billing and other applications.

In license plate recognition, the advantage of SeeCar over existing competitors is that it is uniquely “robust and versatile,” according to Elovic.

“We supply recognition systems that read license plates in 30 countries around the world, with a huge variety of characters – from Korean to Arabic,” he said.

The US poses a special problem, he said, making it by far the most difficult country for which to provide license plates detection

“Just think,” he said, “most countries have a uniform plate with a standard number of symbols. The United States not only has a different license plate for every state with a huge variety of decoration on them with various graphics and colors, but vanity plates are permitted that can have an unusually low or high number of letters and numbers.”

The other major component of the company’s business is their product line called SeeContainer.

“There is a tremendous need in ports, railyards, and shipyards for containers to be quickly identified in real time. We work to adapt to any environment so that containers can be tracked,” said Elovic.

SeeContainer consists of recognition systems and software that tracks, reads and checks Shipping Container identification markings. When the containers come in on trucks, the system recognizes both the container ID, the license plate on the truck plate, and other forms of ID if they exist.

The SeeContainer system interfaces the information through cameras and sensors, processes the information, and outputs the results directly on a computer.

To record high-quality ID images under all types of conditions, OCR systems employ multiple cameras for each target. For example, three separate cameras capture container IDs and up to two are used to record the chassis and truck plate numbers. Multiple cameras allow the system to overcome sunlight, glare, fog, darkness and help clarify damaged, dirty or illegible ID markings on trucks and containers.

The complex applications program classifies the ID numbers and passes the results to marine clerks in the terminal control center, where accurate entries are processed and exceptions – trucks that do not match up with pre-filed data – are checked.

Close to 85 percent of trucks entering and exiting terminals can be processed electronically with no intervention from clerks using the system.

The SeeContainer line includes the SeeCrane – when containers are lifted onto a ship, the identification system; automatically reads and records the container code number as it is handled – as well as SeeTrain, a container recognition system that reads containers riding on the railroads together with railcar tags.

For its California rail project with the US Homeland Security Department, Hi-Tech Solutions created a custom system to read the label of every container and to check it against the manifests, checking its origin and destination.

“It was a very difficult project and we were proud they chose us to do it,” said Elovic.

In this location, together with others on the West Coast of the United States, the company worked in cooperation with San-Diego-based APS Technology, an installation contractor and systems integrator.

In addition to security worries, the SeeContainer system also dramatically increases efficiency at ports, and have changed the terminals that handle containers in fundamental ways – making them more of a factory line than a warehouse, as the technology allows containers to move through them far more quickly than when they were individually identified by employees, saving millions for taxpayers.

Both levels of technology reduce dependence on marine clerks, as OCR eliminates the need for clerks to type in data collected at port and pedestal gates, while GPS and yard management systems make it redundant for clerks to verbally instruct yard crane operators and to record their moves.

As a result, the company found itself at the center of a major labor dispute a few years ago in several other ports on the West Coast of the U.S., when longshoreman and union labor fought the technology that increased efficiency and resulted in job loss. In 2003, a 10-day lockout that seriously disrupted the commerce that passes through West Coast ports as a result of union protests over the technology.

“All of that is resolved now and there has been an upsurge in orders for West Coast terminals,” said Elovic.

Elovic said he was pleased and proud that his company’s system was chosen to be part of the security backbone in the Athens Olympic Games, which took place without incident.

Their next major project is especially meaningful because it will be close to home: the company is installing its system at Ben-Gurion Airport, and will make it the first airport in the world in which every vehicle that enters the airport will not only have the car stopped and examined by security personnel, but will have its license plates scanned as well.

Hi-Tech Solution’s R&D offices are in Migdal Haemek, on the outskirts of Nazareth, and its administration, management and operations are located in Rishon Lezion. When working on international projects, the company usually teams up overseas with selected local companies who provide complementary technology products and services.

Elovic, who has led the Hi-Tech Solutions since 2000, says that although the company has had difficulty in some specific markets because of political reasons, “generally, in most markets, Israeli technology is considered to be an advantage. Saying that our technology is developed in Israel is like having a quality stamp of approval.”


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