Monday, June 29, 2015

Living in the Age of Cactus Cameras

What a lovely cactus in the middle of that new roundabout...hey wait a minute...

Smile, you're on candid cactus: PV gets eyes on plates.

News of these broke in all the usual places about a month and a half ago, so this is just about my little post-work ramble* to grab a couple of pictures of a camera semi-hiding in a cactus in the middle of a roundabout.

These are license plate cameras, of a design and technology such that they can accurately capture images of passing license plates, transmit them to some central facility, then OCR (optically character recognition) the images so the plates, or rather the drivers of the vehicles to which the plates are attached, can be tracked, or identified against some alert database of plates of concern, or, at a later date, searched for information related to crime. Amber alerts were the example used in most of the news stories I read.

There are, I think I read, eleven installations of these ringing Paradise Valley, stationed at the major entrances to the town, capturing and digitizing the plates of all vehicles passing by.

I read more facts, much more, but the curious can use the same tools and sources I did, go and read about the controversy, the funding, the initial semi-secrecy which quickly moved to openness and explanation. It's all there for the reading.

What interests me is that we live in an age where we do this thing. Build fake cactii, mount high-tech cameras in them, snap images of passing license plates, use OCR software to read the plates, store the data and match it against other data. I guess it's a passing thing, these photo cactii, since once we're all riding around in driverless cars, passively drinking in a highly targeted non-stop stream of advertainments, our whereabouts will always be known, our current mood and shopping preferences already recorded by the commercial chariot we're riding around inside of, our images recorded by the multiple cameras mounted inside the vehicle, so that it will hardly be necessary to go the cactii cam route any longer. Everything will be known, digitized, correlated, matched, tracked, preferenced, scored, and wish-anticipated back at us in real time.

I guess, in case the driverless cars become sentient and try to take over, the cactii cams could be dusted off and reactivated, used to track errant driverless vehicles. Of course, for that to work, they would have to be on their own separate network, so that they don't just become extensions of the Mind, used to spot and track any humans who dare to venture "outside" under their own power, walking, say, or cycling.

I'll wave at the cactus cams when I ride by. Go around the circle twice, to see if it recognizes me.    

From the other side, just a squat saguaro behind a gabion town sign

*was going to say that I snapped these on my way home, but this is only on my way home in the sense that going 40% out the direct way home on a Phoenix summer afternoon can be considered "on the way," which is just the type of casual exageration that gets me in trouble with those who claim I enjoy riding my bike so much that I sometimes make up stories which, regardless of their superficial content of alleged fact, are at their very foundations just excuses for riding my bike farther, or later, or for seeking out and taking photos of things like license plate cameras mounted in cactus-like structures.


  1. Optical face recognition for the cyclists? He. he. Big brother is watching you...go around...and around...

    1. I'm thinking the recognition might be hampered if I wear my dust storm gear: Vogmask respirator, wrap-around sunglasses.

  2. CactiCams! Are all of the intallations in fake cactii? Or are there other fake plants or obkects semi-concealing them?

    1. I couldn't find a breakdown of which are pseudo-cactii, and which are just mounted on poles, except that they used cactus where there weren't poles that would work. I don't guess a fake majestic tree adorned with brilliant fall foliage-cam would work around here...

  3. As we normally follow you guys in the USA a year or two later.... I suppose we can look forward to seeing these over here soon....
    Mind you, we will probably have them mounted in Oak trees or something as a Cactus over here just wouldn't look right :-)


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