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Start-up spotlight: Vehicle Occupancy Ltd

25 Oct 2007

Imaging technology from a Loughborough University spin-out offers a new approach to congestion charging for traffic control.

What products does Vehicle Occupancy Limited (VOL) sell?
VOL manufactures dtect, an automated system for determining the number of occupants within moving road vehicles. The system is contained within a single weather and vandal-proof housing installed either roadside on a pole or suspended over the road on a gantry, and can be controlled remotely via an encrypted internet link.

What core technology is involved?
"dtect is a direct answer to congestion," John Tyrer, VOL's technical director told optics.org. "Congestion charges and similar schemes are one thing, but what's really needed is to change people's behaviour."

dtect illuminates the windscreen area with two different wavelengths of low intensity infrared light, and takes two digital infrared pictures of the windscreen. The pair of images is processed to produce one enhanced image of the occupants' skin, and non-facial features are disregarded by the software algorithm. The number of faces is then counted, the entire process taking a fraction of a second.

The count, the image, a timestamp and location information are then available for use by a larger automated traffic management system or transmitted to a remote terminal for human post-processing. For privacy reasons, green dots are applied to the faces in the image to preserve anonymity.

"Personal freedoms are protected," Tyrer said. "If two or more people are in a car, the system registers the number but their faces are obscured so there's no liberty infringement. The faces do remain visible in the original raw data of course."

What application areas does VOL target?
dtect is intended to serve congestion charging and road tolling schemes, high occupancy vehicle lane enforcement and occupancy data gathering.

"The intention with dtect is to actually incentivize people to accept and use high-occupancy lanes, with the incentive being people's wish to save money and be eligible for some form of financial discount," explained Tyrer. "If people want the benefit, they'll want the system to see them and won't try and cheat."

What were the origins of the company?
VOL is a spin-out from Loughborough University, UK, formed in 2004 to commercialize dtect. The dtect technology was originally devised by Laser Optical Engineering, another Loughborough spin-out located on the university campus.

Quick facts
Funding: in 2005 Avingtrans, a UK company specializing in the design and manufacture of components for transport, aerospace and medical markets, secured exclusive rights to the VOL technology via its subsidiary Vehicle Sensor Technology. As part of this deal, Avingtrans is funding the prototyping process for dtect.

People: VOL currently employs five people. Laser Optical Engineering employs 10 people.

Vehicle Occupancy Limited
PO Box 6321
Loughborough
Leicestershire LE11 3XZ
United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 (0) 115 949 0938
Email: enquiries@vehicleoccupancy.com
Web: www.vehicleoccupancy.com

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