Redflex considers solar speed cameras
by Dustin Gardiner - Aug. 23, 2009 09:20 PM
The Arizona Republic
Sometime in the not-so-distant future, the photo-enforcement camera that snaps a picture of you speeding along an Arizona freeway may be powered by the sun.
Scottsdale-based Redflex Traffic Solutions Inc. is in the process of developing a photo- enforcement camera equipped with a solar panel that would allow it to operate independently of the power grid.
Redflex, which has a contract to supply the state's traffic cameras, is evaluating a bid from a solar-engineering firm to design the new technology. But company representatives are tight-lipped about the project.
"Until it is tested to our satisfaction, we're not going to media comment on it," said company spokeswoman Shoba Vaitheeswaran.
A Department of Public Safety official acknowledged that solar photo-enforcement cameras have been discussed; however, the agency is not making any plans until the state's budget battle is settled.
"Right now, it's really difficult to do long-term planning," said Lt. Jeff King, who oversees photo enforcement for DPS. He said the agency cannot sign off on any expansion until it knows whether it will have the manpower needed to handle additional cameras.
King said that because there have been a number of fatal collisions on U.S. 93, it is among several stretches of highway where DPS hopes to expand photo enforcement, though he said several areas in metro Tucson are the most immediate safety concerns for DPS.
In the past three years, a high number of people have been injured or killed on the highway between Wickenburg and Interstate 40 toward Las Vegas, with at least eight fatal collisions and about 60 injury-causing crashes annually, according to DPS.
Vaitheeswaran said Redflex has no immediate plans for the cameras.
"We have investigated the use of solar power around that area (U.S. 93) . . . but there's no plan to go forward at this time," she said.
She said the cameras are "not roadworthy" yet, and emphasized that Redflex is exploring the solar option along with a host of other green innovations. She said Redflex has used solar panels before on some of its fixed cameras in California.
"Until it becomes very clear who our partner would be and what the technology would be, we're not going to be rolling anything out (in Arizona)," she said.
Tempe-based Arizona Solar Concepts has an agreement with Redflex to design and possibly assemble the solar cameras, said owner Clint Taylor, who would not discuss the program in further detail due to a "non-disclosure" contract with Redflex.
When asked about plans to install as many as 50 cameras on U.S. 93, Taylor said, "That's exactly what I'm not supposed to be disclosing."
Taylor's company has contracted a portion of its design work to Solar Engineering Group, an ASU-student-run venture.
David Spotts, student president of Solar Engineering Group, said he could not talk specifically about the Redflex project.
But he said that in general the idea of putting them along U.S. 93 makes sense.
"That's a high-speed freeway, so why not put cameras out there to bust everybody?" Spotts said.
Using solar power would allow more cameras to be installed and operated more cheaply, because they would not have to be connected to a power source, he added.
In its agreement with the state, Redflex receives up to $28.75 out of every $165 paid to the state by motorists photographed speeding on highways. Redflex, in turn, pays costs associated with installing and operating the machines. The contract is estimated to be worth about $20 million a year to Redflex.
Redflex also has contracts with cities and towns throughout the state, including Peoria, Tempe and Chandler.
American Traffic Solutions, a competing photo-enforcement company based in Scottsdale, has contracts with many of the Valley's larger cities - Mesa, Scottsdale and Glendale. A spokesman would not disclose if it is doing similar research.
Several people involved with Redflex's solar research say efforts to develop new cameras could be complicated by the controversy surrounding photo enforcement.
Legislators first approved the statewide camera program in July 2008 and gave DPS a mandate to install 100 fixed and portable cameras. But the program was suspended by DPS in January following anti-photo- enforcement protests and efforts by legislators to ban the cameras.
At the time, only 36 fixed locations and 42 mobile cameras had been put in place. DPS has since restarted the program, and it installed two additional cameras in February, said Bart Graves, a spokesman for DPS.