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2020 Blogs

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This company could turn every home's camera into a license plate reader

January 30, 2020
For years, license plate readers have been used by police to collect information on millions of people, whether it's for criminal investigations, racial profiling or illegal blackmailing. Now Rekor Systems wants to put that technology in your neighbors' hands. On Thursday, the company launched Watchman, automatic license plate reader technology it says can be installed on any home security camera. Rekor's software, known as OpenALPR, then can analyze streaming video and find license plates captured in a recording. The product has been publicly available since 2015, but this is the first time Rekor is specifically marketing to individual homeowners rather than businesses. To entice suburban residents, it's offering a steep price drop -- from the $50 a month it charges businesses and law enforcement agencies to $5 a month, less than the price of a newspaper subscription. Watchman uses a whitelist/blacklist system, allowing customers to log plate numbers for cars that are approved to be near their homes or to warn them when a vehicle has been flagged as a potential threat is near. Rekor Systems, which already works with police departments across the country, says the home version will work just as well as professional versions of the technology. "It is as effective and accurate as our law enforcement version," Rekor CEO Robert Berman said. "This is the same product we use with our customers." But with Rekor's product launch, privacy advocates now worry that these automatic license plate readers, otherwise known as ALPRs, could be installed in front of every home, creating a network for police to bolster their own surveillance technology, which often has to go through City Hall for approval. "They essentially get a vast network of ALPRs that they get to use for whatever purpose they want -- and in return, citizens get no say in what tech their police use because technically it comes down to the consumer's choice to install it and grant access," said Matthew Guariglia, an Electronic Frontier Foundation policy analyst. It's akin to the situation that's developed with Ring video doorbells. That company, owned by Amazon, has been working with hundreds of police departments around the US to promote the adoption of the cameras, which in turn can be used to supply video footage to the police. ALPRs are a powerful technology. They're most commonly used by law enforcement agencies to identify and track cars moving across a city, though they're also used by repossession companies and landlords. Think of it as facial recognition for license plates -- cameras trained to look for the alphanumeric codes on cars. When a car is spotted, the system logs the time and location, as well as other information associated with the vehicle. If linked together in a network, ALPRs could essentially track where a car has been throughout the day at any given moment. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been using ALPR technology to track and locate immigrants in investigations. Its system has access to more than 5 billion points of location data collected by readers in parking lots, on roads and at toll booths. Increasingly, ALPR technology has found its way into the hands of the average citizen. The Los Angeles Times reported that parts of the city, as well as communities in 30 states, pay up to $2,000 a camera to Flock Safety, a company that offers license plate readers to track every car that passes through a neighborhood. Rekor has now made it cheap enough that any homeowner could buy it. "We decided to put a product out there that was more affordable for the home," Berman said. "If you have a second home, you might want to know if people are on your property. It's not a bad thing to have." Tracking your neighbors Watchman customers log license plates in a list. The system sends notifications every time the car with that license plate is caught on their camera. In a promotional video for Watchman, Rekor said it could deter package thieves by flagging their cars. Berman said the system isn't constantly monitoring cars that pass by. Only OpenALPR's premium customers, who pay $50 a month instead of $5, can flag every car not on a customer's list. Even though the home edition doesn't log every car that drives by, Berman acknowledged that a dedicated person would be able to discover the license plates of all passing cars using Rekor's technology. That person would have to watch hours of footage, pause every time a car passed, write down the number and then log it into Watchman. Berman doesn't believe that scenario is likely. "If someone wants to invest an effort to do it, I think anything's possible," he said. "I just don't think anybody's going to do that." While Berman said Watchman's ALPR is just as effective as the law enforcement edition, he noted key differences between the two versions. Police have access to names, addresses and location history when they use license plate readers, but the average citizen won't, he said. A private user will only be able to get the license plate number and an alert each time it's detected, Berman said. But even that would be enough for privacy concerns, said the EFF's Guariglia. "Even with just one ALPR set up in front of your house, it is enough to be able to learn about people -- to see their patterns of movement, when they come down your street, at what time, what cars they drive -- which is information that can be used to infer incredibly personal things about a person," Guariglia said. "This especially poses a problem if your ALPR covers a road that leads to the parking lot of a law firm or a mental health facility." A driver also has no say in being logged by someone's license plate reader, or even the knowledge that their vehicle was being tracked. The explosion of internet-connected cameras in household products like Amazon's Ring and Google's Nest Cam, which are installed on doorsteps and gaze onto the world, made Watchman possible, Berman said. Adding his company's license plate reading software to those devices seemed like a logical next step, Berman said. By pricing Watchman lower than a Netflix subscription, the company is aiming to get this technology in as many homes as possible. "This is what we always feared with the proliferation of these private surveillance systems," said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. "Once you install the hardware, it becomes so cheap and easy to add more and more invasive and dystopian technology on top of that."

Gulfstream Moving to Fort Worth

February 20, 2020
One of the world’s best-known business jet manufacturers plans to move 150 to 200 jobs out of Dallas Love Field and into Fort Worth’s Alliance Airport. Officials from Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. on Thursday announced the plans to build a large, regional service center at Alliance Airport. Ground is expected to break on the project later this year and be completed by late 2021. “The life cycle of an airplane is 40 years, so over a period of time on an annual basis or every couple of years they’ll need to come in for inspection and maintenance,” Derek Zimmerman, Gulfstream president of customer support, said after the announcement inside an Alliance Airport hangar. The new facility likely will become a routine stop for Gulfstream airplanes based all around North, Central and South America, he said. Zimmerman added that, while the company is happy with its maintenance space at Love Field, it needed room to grow at an airport that caters more to business jets, and less to fixed-route commercial air travel “People here (working at Gulfstream) will be technical, primarily,” Zimmerman said. “There will be range of mechanical services and high-tech avionics. They’ll have a lot of craftsmanship skills for working on interior things like paint, cabinetry and finish and structure work.” The company is not closing its Love Field service center but will downsize it, he said. In addition to bringing over 150 to 200 Dallas workers, Gulfstream also expects to hire roughly 50 additional new employees at Alliance Airport. A plethora of North Texas dignitaries attended an announcement of Gulfstream’s plans on Thursday inside an Alliance Airport hangar. The agreement to move to Fort Worth still must be approved by the board of directors for Gulfstream’s parent company, General Dynamics. Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. is based in Savannah, Ga. The deal comes after nearly four years of negotiations with the city, Tarrant and Denton counties (since Alliance Airport straddles the county line) and Hillwood real estate development company, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said. Hillwood built Alliance Airport in the 1980s, and still manages thousands of acres of commercial and industrial property surrounding the air field. Price said the city was thrilled that both airports under consideration by Gulfstream for the expansion project were in Fort Worth. She didn’t identify the city airport other than Alliance Airport that was involved in the negotiations. No subsidies will be requested of local government, other than assistance training its work force in aviation-related trades, Zimmerman said. “The story of Alliance airfield is the story of American aviation, and Hillwood and Gulfstream are a big part of that history,” Congresswoman Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, told a crowd of about 200 people attending the announcement event. The new Gulfstream facility will be about 160,000 square feet — a little smaller than a typical Walmart Supercenter — and will be built on 21 acres on the airport’s northeast end, officials said. The facility will include a wheel and brake shop, a tool crib, sheet metal and avionics work spaces and ample room for business offices. Total cost of construction is expected to be about $35 million. Also attending the event Thursday were representatives of Tarrant County College’s Erma C. Johnson Hadley Northwest Campus Center of Excellence for Aviation, Logistics and Transportation. The college operates a federally-approved maintenance program at Alliance Airport.

Brite Selects Rekor to Provide Industry Leading Vehicle Recognition Solutions to its U.S. Client Base Following Comprehensive Evaluation

February 26, 2020
Rekor Systems, Inc. (REKR) ("Rekor"), a Nasdaq company focused on bringing smarter, faster, cost-competitive solutions to the worlds of public safety and customer experience, announced today it has been selected by Brite Computers ("Brite"), a leader in public safety systems integration, as their sole ALPR solution that they will offer to their extensive customer base comprised of law enforcement and state and local governments. Brite will be a premier reseller of Rekor's AI and deep machine learning technology. With hundreds of existi­­­­ng clients across the nation, Brite is an industry-leading organization that designs, installs, and services leading innovative technologies for law enforcement. Brite conducted extensive research and re-evaluation of the ALPR market to understand the current state of technology and to ensure its customers have the most complete solution available. Brite previously partnered with Motorola Solutions for ALPR and has now selected Rekor's vehicle recognition solution to meet the current and future needs of its customers. Trevor Smith, EVP of Sales and Marketing, Brite commented, "Rekor has developed the most innovative, flexible and accurate vehicle recognition software technology on the market. The software-based solution eliminates the constraint of proprietary, expensive ALPR camera systems by utilizing nearly any existing IP cameras. Utilizing IP cameras allows departments to expand ALPR deployments and better protect its community, all at the same cost. After being in the ALPR space for over a decade, Brite re-evaluated the market and explored new and innovative automatic license plate recognition technology. After a thorough evaluation of the technologies, we were impressed with the capabilities of the Rekor platform. We're incredibly excited to grow this partnership and bring a strong product to our customers." "We are proud that Brite has chosen to adopt our vehicle recognition software as the best choice for their customers. Brite has a comprehensive client base that will be advantaged by our solutions - including our Watchman software that can turn any IP security camera into a robust vehicle recognition system," said Robert A. Berman, President and CEO, Rekor. Rekor's software and cameras can be deployed to support any application without long installation delays. Rekor's solution can be used to collect license plate data and information such as the make, type, and color of a vehicle. This can represent substantial savings compared to traditional optical character recognition license plate reading technology.