A curious sight caught our attention at AfricaCom: among the set-top boxes and fibre optic cables there sits a police vehicle.

The branding is wrong and there aren’t any police lights, but the car is packed with Intel tech, including 3D cameras, an Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) computer and Intel’s RealSense camera. The company says that this will go a long way to helping citizens and, more importantly, help police fight crime.

Website CarInfo says that 55 000 cars are stolen every year in South Africa. The result is that these crimes drive up insurance premiums, especially if you have a car that thieves target regularly. Of course the fact that a crime is taking place and not being prevented is the obvious problem, and this is where Intel’s car becomes important.

Attached to the roof of the car is a 3D camera that is able to scan cars and number plates. This camera is linked to an on-board computer and NUC that compares number plates against a database of stolen vehicles. Should a stolen vehicle get scanned, an alert will be sent to the officer in the car via a tablet fitted into the vehicle.

This is the 3D camera that is able to scan license plates which the onboard PC is able to compare to a database.
This is the 3D camera that scans license plates, which the onboard PC is able to compare to a database.

While this may help for an existing database of cars, you might be wondering whether it could find a vehicle that has just been stolen. We asked Intel if this was possible and the short answer is, yes. The NUC in the vehicle is linked to the police station or office, and should a citizen report a stolen car the license plate can immediately be uploaded to the database and police in the vicinity of the stolen vehicle can respond with near immediacy.

Officers are able to view critical information, including new info, in real time on this tablet.
Officers are able to view critical information, including new info, in real time on this tablet.

The obsession with monitoring continues on the driver’s side. Intel’s RealSense cameras have been hooked up to the steering wheel for this demo but would be fitted into the dashboard in real usage cases. This camera is able to detect whether a driver is under duress, tired or even stressed out. This would prompt headquarters to send relief or back up.

Should someone try to steal the police vehicle, the RealSense camera will scan the person in the driver’s seat and if the driver does not match the information on record, the vehicle can be ordered to not start or a message could be sent to HQ to take action.

It's not just citizens that the car wants to protect, law enforcement is watched and monitored as well.
It’s not just citizens that the car wants to protect, law enforcement is watched and monitored as well via an Intel RealSense camera.

This technology is nothing new in that license plate scanning has been done in the UK for some time now, but in a South African context something like this would go a long way to clamping down on vehicle crime, and helping our police be a bit safer on the job.