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Rockwell Collins iForce NextGen Mobile Computing

Written by Brad Brewer

Rockwell Collins is a global electronic company specializing in military and aviation communications systems. Their 75 years of mission-critical system experience allows Rockwell Collins to provide both state-of the-art communication systems and systems ruggedized and fully integrated with today’s law enforcement vehicles.

Their new three-piece system for police vehicles is called iForce, a fully open system designed from the ground up to be fully compatible with most public safety electronics and communications systems. Complete installation flexibility allows for safe integration and complete interoperability in the current police vehicles and as well as all four new police vehicles from Chevy, Dodge and Ford.

Rockwell Collins has worked closely with Lectronix in the development of the iForce system. Founded in 2002, Lectronix is a technology leader in vehicle management and driver information systems. The company operates facilities in Lansing, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, Mich.

Standing alone from other three-piece computing systems, the iForce system is unique as it fully integrates stand-alone vehicle electronics into a single command screen. This improves not only functionality, but simplifies the “information overload” that officers are faced with on a daily basis.

iForce does this with officer ergonomics in mind as well. The officer navigates around one computer screen with the touch of a finger. Easy-to-use graphic user interfaces (GUI) enhance officer safety by increasing efficiency and reducing officer distraction.

The easy-to-use GUI controls the land mobile radio (LMR), emergency lighting and siren controller, in-car video, radar / laser systems, long gun locks, and other essential equipment. This allows agencies to de-clutter the interior of the vehicle and put legacy LMR or siren control heads out of site, as well as access to non-critical features like vehicle multimedia. No more trying to wrestle the computer out of the way to get to the instrument panel of the vehicle to change the AM/FM radio station.

The mission-critical functions of iForce run on a high-assurance Linux-based processor, but the system also includes a Windows module. Combined with the use of a Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA) hardware and software, this approach allows for easy interfacing with electronic peripherals and Windows-based systems. Rockwell pioneered the use of MOSA in the military and applied this open system idea in the design of iForce, knowing the diversity in law enforcement software systems currently in use.

As an example, to integrate ALPR technology into iForce, the ALPR supplier needs only to provide a digital output from its ALPR system and their own proprietary software to run in the Windows operating environment. Then Rockwell Collins or the installing agency can add the functionality to the iForce system.

To integrate an agency’s current land-mobile radio system, iForce again uses the common GUI to control the radio as well as provide expansion space in the trunk of the vehicle with the other hardware components. Integration is not only faster but because of the common GUI, training is minimal.

The iForce package is comprised of Rockwell Collins proprietary Base Computing Module (BCM) or Integrated Computing Module (ICM) mounted in the trunk. A front-mounted 13.3-inch touchscreen display (11.3-inch wide by 7-inch high) comes with anti-static screen that works with gloves. On the screen bezel there are seven hard buttons for quick access to critical screens like, Patrol, MDC, Lights and Siren, Radio, AM/FM, Radar and Camera. Also featured is a solid, secure-mounted, multi-positional backlit keyboard.

The package also includes a revolutionary hand controller for ergonomically correct access to immediate emergency controls, and a standard hands-free microphone for voice communications. In all, it includes four new police-purposed products from the big three automakers. The iForce system can be safely mounted within the airbag safe zone. The Hand Control Device (HCD) was developed to allow an officer to control all of the mission-essential functions without having to take his eyes off the road ahead.

Using the HCD, an officer can control the radio, change the lights and siren settings, control the radars, and perform other tasks that would normally require using multiple control heads. The HCD also provides a button that allows the officer to key the voice control functions for iForce.

Key to the integration of the iForce product is the high-integrity, automotive-grade processors and real-time embedded software for mission-critical functions and user interfaces. The iForce system actually contains two computers; one to run mission-critical applications (radios, gun locks, siren and lights), and the second for standard Windows PC-based equipment mounted around the vehicle.

iForce can support up to eight LMR systems and can digitally simulcast radio signals across each band. This cross-banding capability solves potential interoperability issues for police, fire and ambulance where existing systems do not have that functionality. Again, the common GUI allows for clean visual indication of current functioning LMR channel operations for each individual radio system.

Cross banding or cross patching analog, digital, trunked or not trunked frequencies are common problems with large agencies working across multi-jurisdictional coverage areas. iForce provides the ability to define nine independent cross patches used to route audio between radios. Each bus connects two or more radios one at a time or all simultaneously. Once activated, the signals are routed to other radios on the bus, allowing users of different radio systems to communicate as if they all were on the same radio system. This represents true interoperability.

The iForce P25 Vehicle Repeater System (VRS) can also be connected to a cross patch so an officer has the same LMR functionality while outside of the police vehicle. The optional RC P25 VRS is available to automatically configure the local area repeater network, allowing the officer to control the mobile radios from a portable in the field. Also included is P25 emergency signaling (portable radio officer-activated emergency button) and automatic emergency relay to dispatch.

Rockwell Collins’ iForce system provides a fully integrated, scalable systems approach to mobile computing and radio communications for the future of law enforcement. iForce comes fully supported with custom mounting solutions, wire harnesses, installation drawings, user’s guides, maintenance manuals, equipment warranty support, operator and installation training packages.

Train the trainer can be provided with other technical support and ultimately the end user agency can dictate the type and level of training required. The iForce system is not only cutting-edge revolutionary, but is capable of meeting future technology demands as well.

Most recently the iForce system has been deployed by two major North American agencies. In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) K Division (Edmonton) selected iForce and is currently rolling out 1,000 systems. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) awarded Rockwell Collins an order for 4,650 iForce systems statewide. The CHP deployment is ongoing and they are evaluating the potential to use iForce in other vehicles as well.

The process of acquiring iForce begins with a survey that comes from Rockwell Collins in the form of a Word document. The department fills out the survey to describe all the equipment they want iForce to control on the vehicle—the model of light bar they use, the radios they plan to install, what vehicle make and model they will use, etc.

Additionally they can specify things such as specific warning light configurations. Since the iForce system also replaces the laptop computer, they can also specify the Windows computing requirements that need to be met. The open systems architecture around which iForce is designed allows it to be integrated with a wide range of electronics, so the engineers who work on iForce use the information from the department to load all of the correct software to support the equipment the department plans to use.

That’s one of the key features of iForce—its ability to integrate control of the equipment the department wants to use. The department isn’t limited by iForce to a particular light bar, or video system, or a specific radio manufacturer’s radio.

Once the specific configuration is created, Rockwell Collins will work with the department to install all the equipment on a patrol car for a trial and evaluation (T&E). This usually includes sending an iForce engineer to assist the department and / or its upfitter with the installation of the iForce system.

Once the T&E is under way, additional support is available from the Rockwell Collins Field Service Engineers (FSEs) as needed, and 24/7/365 service is always available through the Rockwell Collins Network Operations Center (NOC) in Duluth, Ga. The FSEs and the NOC both continue to support iForce customers throughout the lifecycle of iForce.

The pricing for iForce varies depending on the level of complexity of the equipment the department wants to integrate and the options chosen. More sophisticated systems might include multiple radios, a license plate reader (LPR), and options such as the Vehicle Repeater System (VRS).

A system that replaces the controls for the lights, sirens, radios, video, radars, gun locks and replaces the laptop computer will typically cost between $10K and $12K. Most departments find they will spend roughly the same amount of money for a traditional non-integrated solution with all the mounts and accessories as they would for an integrated iForce-based solution.

The long service life, low maintenance and repair costs of the iForce system combined with its ability to add in new components (such as LPR) at a later date if desired, typically make the total cost of ownership for iForce significantly less than for a traditional non-integrated system.

At the 2011 Police Fleet Expo in St. Louis, several vehicle upfitters showed off their latest technology vehicles. These upfitters continue to push the boundaries of what a “high-tech” cop car can do for the officer. The goal has always been to use technology to its fullest in order to make the officer more efficient and safer. Productivity is the big focus of these technology vehicles; in other words, technology that distracts impacts productivity and safety.

Also key to the iForce system is the ability to use advanced technologies to de-clutter the interior and provide state-of-the-art electronics to enhance officer safety. It uses intelligent control devices and synchronized LED lighting to communicate more effectively through the warning systems.

The Rockwell Collins iForce Integrated Control System is the most advanced in-vehicle computing system that not only runs the mobile data terminal software with AVL/GPS mapping, but also is able to interface with OEM AM/FM radios. This allows for the officer to use the Rockwell Collins touchscreen for almost every vehicle adjustment and setting.

The Rockwell Collins iForce truly brings the technology together into an interface that is simple to utilize and greatly reduces driver distraction. At a traffic stop, as the car is placed in park, the siren is turned off, the takedowns are turned on, and the flash pattern of the lights is changed. When the driver’s door is opened, the radio repeater is activated, allowing the driver to keep his attention on his safety and the environment outside of the vehicle.

It is ideas like these that highlight how any agency can use the Rockwell Collins iForce system to integrate the very latest in technology in order to push the boundaries of safety and technology. It’s a credit to the Rockwell Collins MOSA open technology of the iForce system to allow this high level of integration. Rockwell Collins is truly setting the bar for the next generation of mobile computing in law enforcement.

Sergeant Brad Brewer is a 22-year member of the Vancouver Police Department. He sits on the Ford Police Advisory Board and regularly gives presentations at law enforcement conferences on mobile computing, wireless technology and police vehicle ergonomics. He can be reached at sgt1411@gmail.com.

Published in Law and Order, Dec 2011

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