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Automatic Vehicle Identification: What is it & How Does it Work?

Amer Hafiz July 17, 2020 8 min read

When we think of access control, often what comes to mind is a system that restricts access to buildings, rooms and physical IT assets.

However, it’s only one aspect of a bigger, layered approach to security management, going beyond controlling people’s access within the building; vehicle access control

Did you know that automatic vehicle identification can also enable businesses and organisations to control vehicles entering and leaving their premises?

And with connected car shipments to rise from 33 million in 2017 to over 77 million by 2025, the use of automated vehicle access control is set to increase at a rapid pace.

For more information on industry trends and key technologies, download our Automatic Vehicle Identification: State of the Industry Report

A robust vehicle access solution will not only increase the security of your premises, but it will also improve your car park efficiency, customer experience, reduce costs and simplify the fleet management, and more.

In this Nortech complete guide, you'll learn: 

  • The key components that make up automatic vehicle access
  • How RFID can be used for automatic vehicle identification 
  • How ANPR can be used to automatically identify vehicles 
  • The impact automated vehicle access control has on modern-day gatehouses 
  • How to integrate people and vehicle access into one system 

Short on time? Download our Nortech ANPR Comparison

Key Components of Automatic Vehicle Identification

In most cases, automatic vehicle access control includes the following key components:

  • Vehicle detection and identification - inductive loop detectors, long-range readers, ANPR ,etc.
  • Physical Barrier to the premises – sliding gates, barriers, bollards etc.
  • Access Control Management - controllers, system management software
  • Access Control Credentials - pin numbers, ID cards, windscreen tags, window buttons, smartphones, etc.

Together, these components provide a flawless, integrated experience for the vehicles entering and exiting the premises. For businesses, this solution improves security, cuts down on needless costs and helps to manage vehicle access in a more efficient and streamlined way.

There are various technologies involved in vehicle access control, such as RFID tags, ANPR, and others. Let’s take a closer look at some of these technologies and how they work.

Automatic Vehicle Identification Key Components


Automatic Vehicle Identification Using an RFID System

Currently the most popular technology used for automated vehicle identification, the RFID tag market is projected to be sized at around 24.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2020. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) utilises electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track various objects.

When it comes to vehicle access solutions, RFID tags are often placed on vehicles like buses, taxis, or employees’ cars to automatically identify them and grant secure access to the premises.

RFID can use various frequencies, however, the most commonly used are low, high and ultra-high frequencies. In most cases, automatic vehicle identification systems utilise ultra-high frequencies, as it offers a higher read range and has a stronger signal. It has been predominantly used in logistics to track and trace parcels and products within the production and distribution processes.

Most RFID systems include a microchip with an antenna (tag), a reader with an antenna and an access control server. There are two different types of tags: passive tag and active tag.

A passive RFID tag doesn’t include a battery; therefore, its’ built-in antenna picks up on the electromagnetic waves that are sent out by the reader.

On the other hand, an active RFID tag has its own battery power allowing it to transmit the data stored on to it directly to the reader.

While systems like proximity readers or barcode scanners require you to hold the badge or ID card close to the reader, a Long-Range RFID system can be read from farther distances. The read range will depend on the frequency and type of tag.

But how does the reader identify who exactly is entering the premises? When the vehicle approaches the entry/exit station, an RFID system will cross-reference the data stored on the tag with its own database. If it matches, the access is then granted.


RFID Vehicle Tags

So, now that we identified what RFID technology is and how it is utilised in vehicle access control, it's important to look at various ways organisations can tag their vehicles. There are four main types of UHF tags that can be used in various environments:

  • External tags enable long-range vehicle identification and is a tamper-resistant, transparent adhesive tag, which allows quick and easy installation onto the non-metal exterior parts of the vehicle.
  • Windshield tags offer long-range identification of up to 10 metres. Similar to external tags, windshield tags can also come in a tamper-proof version to allow for additional security.
  • Heavy duty external tags are perfect for long term use in outdoor and industrial environments. They can also be cable-tied or bolted onto bicycles, forklifts and many other industrial devices.
  • Combi-cards combine long-range UHF tag and proximity or smartcard technology. This enables the use of one card for both vehicle and building access applications.

Automatic Vehicle Identification and ANPR

The most common decision when designing an automated vehicle access system comes to the decision between ANPR vs long-range RFID.

ANPR is an accurate system that automatically reads vehicle number plates as they approach, and converts valid number plates into standard Wiegand format ID numbers.

This data is then analysed by the access control system. This solution is perfect for applications like vehicle access control, automatic toll collection, visitors’ management at parking facilities or other situations where it is not desirable to issue RFID tags.

It enables you to provide automated 24-hour access to secure sites or car parks by entering the relevant vehicle's number plate into the system. When pre-approved vehicles turn up, the barrier will open allowing free-flowing vehicle access in and out of any secure site. Access can equally be removed or revoked at any time.

ANPR systems have been around for several years and can deliver substantial benefits to secure site operators and consumers alike.

Its technology was created to help end queuing at barriers and is an ideal standalone solution for busy sites which require secure automated vehicle identification.


Gatehouses and Vehicle Access Control

Security of the building often starts at the gate. Facility’s gatehouse or a barrier is a visitor’s first touch point with the premises.

Therefore, it’s essential to ensure that it implements a robust security system, providing the best users experience whilst also securing the premises from unauthorised visitors.

The encroachment of technology into all aspects of car parking is helping businesses to automate their security systems and make them as efficient as possible. The best way to do this, is by automating vehicle access control and implementing integrated security solutions that work together to secure the premises on various levels.

When it comes to automating vehicle access at the gates, companies have two options to choose from: RFID powered systems and ANPR.

RFID powered readers are triggered by a tag attached to a vehicle. Depending on the system, long-range RFID readers can identify vehicles at a distance from 5metres to up to 10 metres. In most cases, an RFID system will cross-reference the data stored on the tag with its own database.

If it matches the access is then granted and the reader sends the signal to the gate/barrier, allowing vehicles to enter the premises.

ANPR solutions are best utilised on premises where it is not desirable to issue RFID tags. With a read range of 2 to 10 metres, the ANPR camera ensures efficient recognition of vehicles.

Deep learning algorithms make it possible to accurately capture numbers under harsh conditions and read plates with different font formats. If vehicles need to be granted access temporarily or incidentally, the ANPR camera is the best way to go.

Take a look at our “Automated People & Vehicle Identification: The End Of Manned Gatehouses?” article to learn more about how this technology can be used for automatic vehicle identification in unmanned gatehouse application.


People & Vehicle Tracking: An Integrative Approach

Apart from tracking entry and exit of a particular vehicle, RFID can also be used to monitor time & attendance and employee or visitors’ location.

Therefore, an RFID system can be a great asset, especially when used as a part of a bigger, integrated access control system. Not only can it be used for security and safety purposes, but it's also a great way to track your employees' attendance and create comprehensive audit logs.

No doubt, the ability to control access for people both when they are on foot and when they are driving a vehicle, offers great benefits. With the help of a single ID card, organisations can simplify their management, improve security levels and reduce unnecessary costs.

This is a perfect example of different layers of an access control system, where both vehicle and people tracking systems work together in an integrative manner.

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If each authorised member of staff or customer is issued with an electronic ID card (proximity card or smart card) to allow them access to secured areas within a building or installation, then the same card can be used to authorise the entry of their vehicle onto the site or into the car park.

In addition, their vehicle can be registered on the vehicle access control system to prevent unauthorised vehicles from entering or leaving the site.

The need for this type of technology is driven not just by the current challenges that we are facing with COVID-19, but also by drivers that are tired of wasting time at the gates and barriers.

The survey conducted by the IPI revealed that 59% of the respondents mentioned the need of “more innovative technologies to improve parking access control and payment automation”, and noted that it is a number one trend that is having the greatest effect on the parking industry.

Therefore, when it comes to managing security the key words are going to be automation and ability to think of a bigger picture, rather than addressing vehicle access and people access as two different systems.



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It seems that people and vehicle access control is an incredibly complex world using hard to understand technology, yet it impacts so many of the environments we interact with on a daily basis.

We are here to fill in the disconnect. We'll break down access control, the benefits, and drawbacks as well, including expert insight based on over 30 years experience in the industry operating as an independent British company. Our goal is to give you ALL the information so you know what's right for you.

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Amer Hafiz

Amer is Nortech's long standing technical expert and thought leader. He has previously taken technical roles at Hitachi, Sony & Panasonic having graduated from Cardiff University with a First Class Honours in Electrical Engineering.

Amer has been featured in numerous industry publications such as Source Security, BSIA, PSI Magazine & Security Informed for his knowledge on technology advancements and its impact on access control.

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