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Background and context:

I'm getting tired, very tired. I live in a car-addicted cesspool (I don't own a car, I only bike and walk) with some of the worst drivers south of Mason-Dixon line. Every, and I repeat, every cyclist here has MULTIPLE stories of being hit by cars in the city that I live in. I knew a bike cop, for instance, who has been hit 7 times in uniform by careless motorists (not in a chase or anything!!!), an e-bike guy who just won a lawsuit for his second crash, and my buddy who currently holds the standing record at 8 times hit... I've been hit 4 times, and after recent events (idiots wanting me to be on the white line [no shoulder on the road, mind you] so that they can pass me with oncoming traffic on a two lane road...) I feel as though I'm due for my 5th.

I'm tired of this crap, but won't give up the hobby/lifestyle even though I know I'm gonna get schwacked real bad at some point... but... I want the car-addicted scum to pay for it this next time around (2 of my 4 incidents were hit and runs, also common here), or if the worst happens I'd rest in peace with the stupid being sent to jail for manslaughter.

THUS:

I want a camera that can be mounted/rigged to a bike that can read/recognize license plates.

  1. It doesn't have to be a bike specific camera. I can rig a mount up if need be.

  2. My commute bike is a classic 1980s Specialized siris road bike (105 group-set and by chance the weird bio-force crank). Drop handle bars. Steel frame. VERY STANDARD. It's a 60 size, so we got a good amount of space.

  3. Camera must run off of an internal battery and be able to run for at least an hour, and have enough memory (or SD card slot) to hold that amount of video without a wifi connection.

  4. The only thing I care about is getting the license plates, I don't care about quality or anything else as long as it can get the plates. A camera with recognition software would be a major plus, as I want to be able to call the cops with plate number in hand as soon as possible.

  5. Size and weight can be a concern, but could be worked around.

  6. In my state there is no front license plate, thus, I will only need a single front camera. My budget, therefore, can increase a bit for it.

  7. If you think a phone would be best for the job, what mounts would you recommend for such?

  8. I do NOT want to wear a helmet camera. Must go on the bike.

Thanks in advance.

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    You need a distance-device on your bike that makes your bike like 50cm wider into the street, so that drivers have the choice of keeping 50cm distance or having their cars scratched by the device.
    – Nobody
    Commented Jun 16 at 19:51
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    @Nobody Just remember you're using that device before you squeeze past obstacles...
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 17 at 7:09
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    It seems unnecessary to try to automate the processing of a handful of short video clips collected over the course of weeks/months. I expect you'd spend longer setting up the system and validating that it does in fact work than you would just watching the video and reading the plate yourself. OCR also isn't going to tell between the car that hit you and one that didn't - if there's ever more than one car on the recording, you're still going to need to verify the plate of the car that hit you by watching the video. Commented Jun 17 at 15:01
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    I admire your tenacity -- but after literally being hit more than once I would certainly stop biking, at least on the dangerous roads. Continuing under these conditions (roads and drivers' attitudes) that are beyond your control is nothing short of suicidal. The course of action now is political: Mostly, bike paths and bike lanes must be built, an awareness campaign rolled out, and the police must patrol notorious stretches and prosecute violators with prejudice. Commented Jun 18 at 12:05
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    As an example, quite recently, one of the most exposed bicycle activists in Germany died in an accident on his bike. As a political act, he stubbornly continued to bike on roads which were life-threatening to cyclists, like the one he was killed on. It's not worth it. Commented Jun 18 at 12:08

4 Answers 4

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The only thing I care about is getting the license plates, I don't care about quality or anything else as long as it can get the plates. A camera with recognition software would be a major plus, as I want to be able to call the cops with plate number in hand as soon as possible.

I think you have a flaw in your plans right there. If you are in a situation where someone escapes successfully, and think that calling the cops right away could make the situation different than calling let's say in 1 hour, you probably are mistaken. The cops can reach the owner of any license plate, but they don't have the resources to do that right now. Maybe they reach it in few days, maybe in few weeks. However, if you have the evidence, a video showing dangerous violation of traffic rules, it's very likely you will win any court case. Eventually. But don't think about having damages in your bank account already tomorrow.

So you should focus in gathering evidence, not in real-time license plate number detection. What you want is enough storage capacity, large enough quality that a human can recognize the license plates and wide enough angle of view that any violation of traffic rules will be visible even if the driver is not right in front of you.

Besides, if you want to call the cops, why not read the license plate yourself with your own eyes and call them with that information. I don't think automatic license plate detection would help there at all, especially given that normal traffic situations have many cars, the software would detect them all, how are you going to get the interesting one from the many license plates without looking at the video? If you look at the video, then you see all of the license plates in the video with your own eyes so some kind of computer vision converting them to text doesn't help.

I think the biggest challenge will be nighttime. During streetlight hours, it's very dark outside. Even a big full frame DSLR camera will have difficulty taking pictures of fast-moving cars then, even if you have a fast f/1.2 lens.

So you can reasonably expect to get license plates only when it's bright outdoors, during daytime. During nighttime no way is this going to work.

The speed ticket cameras use a flash so they work during the nighttime too, but flashes don't work for video, they only work for still pictures. Besides, no camera small enough to be mounted to a handlebar likely has a flash with enough range to be useful. For examples, smartphones don't have a flash, they have a LED light that is erroneously called "flash" even though it's not a flash tube (Xenon tube) but rather a LED.

So any nighttime video will be just noisy motion blur.

Besides, maybe you should reconsider your riding style? I encounter right-of-way violations by cars all the time and yet I still haven't been hit in over 25 years. It's better to be not hit than to continue your existing riding style, be hit all the time, and then have the evidence. Soon you'll be in a wheelchair, your only fortune being that you don't have to pay that wheelchair yourself because you have the evidence, a license plate number.

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    It is a requirement to be a light on the rear license plate, otherwise also human would not see anything at night.
    – nightrider
    Commented Jun 15 at 20:00
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    @nightrider I don't think you understood. Yes, there is a light on the rear license plate. There are also streetlights. But none of those can match the sun! The ISO at night will be very high, resulting in massive noise, and the exposure time will be long, so if the car is moving, all you have is motion blur. Photography and videography at night is very hard.
    – juhist
    Commented Jun 16 at 8:23
  • @juhist With a bright enough helmet-mounted headlight it might work?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 17 at 7:10
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    As this is the highest voted so far: how about adding a paragraph about indeed having two cameras instead of one. When OP is hit by a car, and only has a front camera, I find it likely that said front camera will only show the car moving away. E.g., if the front bumper of the car touches the bike, it won't be on the camera at that point in time. A combined coverage (front + back cameras) would probably be more helpful in court.
    – AnoE
    Commented Jun 17 at 9:35
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    @AnoE also if he's hit from the back he'll likely be thrown off balance, end up in the curb, with front camera pointing who knows where by the time the car passes out front. Having a rear cam capturing the before accident situation is the best bet.
    – MLu
    Commented Jun 17 at 23:50
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There are no cameras I am aware of that can "read" a license plate and produce that data directly as text. Not sure that it would be any use.

Instead - aim to get the best quality footage you can so someone can read the plate off the video output.

I have a small head-light that I can direct at a licence plate to illuminate it, which helps the camera see it at night.

You say that only a front camera is needed - which leaves you with over half your surroundings unmonitored. Have a think to the number of times something of interest has happened behind or beside you.

I ride with a gppro 360 on top of my helmet. This records an all-round view all the time. This model is relatively old now, newer ones do better.

Here are some sample outputs - note that youtube compression has a negative effect on details, so the raw video is slightly clearer.

Exported these are all exported as HD.

360 you can drag these ones around. Apparently they can be viewed "spatially" with a VR headset.
This one is in 4k but your youtube window might choose a lower resolution.

  • Rangitata Ramp Climb

Downsides - having a camera and light on one's head is additional weight, can compromise the function of the helmet, and its easy to bash into low hanging branches and door frames.

Upsides - higher-up gives a better view for the camera.

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    Alternative, two cameras on the bike instead of one on the helmet.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jun 16 at 6:52
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    One thing that's quite common here in the UK, especially with helmet cameras (the only sort I'd consider given that I don't have time to take one off the bike when I lock up at the station) is for the rider to read the number plate aloud into the recording
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 16 at 10:45
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    The OP stated they only wanted a front camera because their state only has rear license plates. And as they desired LPNR functionality (which is probably an XY scenario anyway) there is no need to look at cars coming at them from behind. But I agree, if someone is about to cause an incident, then having video in all directions is beneficial.
    – Peter M
    Commented Jun 17 at 13:45
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As others have proposed, it's probably better to collect the full information about the event, rather than read the number plate specifically.

Apart from the use-case of riding in the rain, a simple car "dash cam" would probably suit your needs:

  • Some come with both forward and rear facing cameras.
    • I think you need the rear camera too (speaking as someone who was once "buzzed" by an idiot in sports-car).
  • Often the camera lens has a slight "fish eye" effect to increase the field of view.
  • Many have the ability to "bookmark" recordings on bump/impact or button-press.
  • They are designed to continually record over "old" footage, in this way they are "set and forget".
  • Many are very good at working in low-light conditions.
  • They can be relatively inexpensive.

It would need a 12 volt battery to power it. Maybe a "lightweight" LiPo RC-car battery would work well. Maybe it and the camera could be mounted in a waterproof component box.

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    My car's dash cam runs off standard USB, so that's 5vdc. However, low light functionality is debatable. I watched a lot of reviews before I bought mine, and it seemed that real world performance was never very good in low light for any brand. OTOH my thoughts are that I don't want a dash cam for near misses, but for when there is a hit that means us stopping and exchanging information. And that the dash cam will support my side of the story - that I didn't engage in sudden lane changing or braking.
    – Peter M
    Commented Jun 17 at 13:38
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    Just an additional point about a read-facing camera: You could get a picture of the driver, so there can't be any "prove it was me" garbage happening in court. It may be useful to also be able to prove something with before and after video (i.e. Behind you and then ahead of you after a collision)
    – millebi
    Commented Jun 17 at 18:33
  • @millebi That's a good point. I was rear ended a couple of years ago (prior to my dash cam), but although we stopped and exchanged insurance information (but didn't call the police as it was a minor accident), the other person's insurance wanted proof that they were actually involved. They were asking if I had any photos that showed their client.
    – Peter M
    Commented Jun 18 at 14:13
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The Raspberry Pi single-board computer supports a camera and Automatic Number Plate Recognition software.

There are many sites on the internet describing how to do it. Just search for "Raspberry Pi ANPR". To get you started:

https://magpi.raspberrypi.com/articles/anpr-car-spy-raspberry-pi https://platerecognizer.com/anpr-on-raspberry-pi/

You would need a camera, an enclosure (recommended to be waterproof) and a battery pack. I would suggest the software is configured to write data to a log file, which you would examine at home.

I know nothing about your budget, technical or DIY skills, so can't be more specific.

Our friends on the Raspberry Pi site https://raspberrypi.stackexchange.com/ may be able to help if you get stuck.

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