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Technology in the Ford NextGen Police Interceptor, Part 1

Written by Brad Brewer

The 2013 Ford Police Interceptor Concept vehicles are perhaps a glimpse into what is yet to come from Ford Fleet. Ford started the first Police Advisory Board (PAB), and to this day it continues to meet with its PAB on a regular basis to ensure the next generation Police Interceptor meets the needs of law enforcement. Ford’s PAB was adamant that the replacement vehicle have all the special police features of the CVPI.

For its part, Ford was equally committed that its NextGen police vehicle be more than just a retail vehicle with a few extra tweaks. For those who see just that at first glance, look again. The concept vehicles and the eventual production Police Interceptor have, or will have, hundreds of parts and processes different from a retail Ford vehicle, just like today’s CVPI.

One of the key messages the PAB sent to the Ford engineers was that these vehicles must have the maximum amount of police technology built in from the factory. This will give the next generation of officers the ability to be ahead of the technology curve, as opposed to adding aftermarket equipment to make up the fast-paced technology gap. Ford listened.

The typical police vehicle has some key, basic pieces of equipment: a cage, a radio, lights, a siren, a speaker, a computer and accessories. To ensure upfitting equipment was integral to the vehicle, Ford engineers brought in aftermarket equipment suppliers right at the beginning to ensure no integration problems would surface after production.

Human Engineering and Stress

Ergonomics are critical in the design of any vehicle. This is especially true for a police vehicle where a mobile office is being created, one that is used for extended periods. This mobile office has to accommodate a multitude of different sized users and must also be safe for both day and night use. With all the variations of police vehicle mobile computing solutions available, how do you know yours is the best for your officers?

Some consistent “Best Practices” exist that are fast becoming more common in agencies across North America. The computer docking station must allow the user’s eyes to view the screen straight on, not at 30 degrees offset. Try this as a test: Sit at a table with your laptop set directly in front of you and look at the screen. Then take the laptop and slide it along the table to the right about 2 feet and try reading it for a few minutes or maybe an hour. Almost impossible, right?

It is not natural to read like that, so your brain tells your body to compensate by twisting your spine into an “S” shape as your move your head further to the right in an effort to gain back that “straight on” viewing angle. Now think about sitting in that position for hours. How quickly could you jump out of a vehicle and run after a suspect after viewing the screen like that?

Keep this in mind when you look at future police vehicles with dash-mounted display screens that are smaller than today’s typical 13-inch laptop screen and which face directly towards the rear of the vehicle. This is not to mention the security issues surrounding screens that are mounted flat on the dash facing the back of the vehicle, potentially allowing a prisoner seated in the backseat to read the screen. Police vehicle screens must swivel to allow a correct eye-line with “straight on” viewing, and don’t let anyone tell you any different!

To improve interior ergonomics and reduce duplication, many aspects can be offered with full integration right from the factory if done correctly with consistent end user input. There is much discussion in this field, with everyone having an opinion about how much technology is too much technology in a vehicle where the user is often under stress, resulting in reduced fine motor skills. In most circumstances, gross motor movements are best for someone who is multi-tasking under stress.

For example, while operating a police vehicle in emergency mode, the siren sound can be mesmerizing, and the officer may be affected by tunnel vision and a loss of fine motor skills. Many agencies have tested various versions of “Car 54” or the “TacNet” police vehicle that’s full of high-tech gadgetry and voice command functionality. Some have had success while others have found that in these high stress situations, having to give voice commands to operate emergency equipment is difficult for most.

Also difficult is having to manipulate your way through multiple screens on a touch screen display while driving. Muscle memory, tactile feel and manipulation of physical switches or buttons without dropping one’s eyes is probably the easier and more common option today.

What about tomorrow’s generation of officers—the ones who haven’t been hired yet and who have been raised their entire lives with technology all around them? Remember, testing new technology on an officer who has had 25 years of muscle memory on a specific piece of equipment isn’t the same as providing new technology to a brand new officer of today’s generation.

This is key to testing new technology. The more experienced officers will generally offer the greatest resistance to change. This was discussed at great length amongst the Ford PAB members. It was unanimously decided that this new PI must be designed from the ground up to reduce upfitting costs by taking advantage of existing OEM technologies for officers of the future who will demand the latest in technology.

Modular Technology and SYNC

The possibilities are endless, but the idea is very simple: provide a basic OEM police technology platform that is an industry standard. Then provide a system that is modular or “a la carte” so each agency can pick and choose its own unique configuration for its specific needs. This type of “platform expansion” is the way of the future for all police aftermarket equipment suppliers if they truly wish to bring a fully functional police vehicle together with complete integration of all technologies.

The Ford/Microsoft SYNC system continues to blow the retail competition out of the water with its award winning multi-media platform. The SYNC product already provides GPS and cellular Bluetooth® capabilities that law enforcement needs. One of these key features is the ability of the SYNC system to provide some of these police technologies right from production. The SYNC product has already proven how well it works in the retail automotive world by providing GPS and cellular Bluetooth capabilities that law enforcement can capitalize on.

Nobody should be paying to have an aftermarket Bluetooth kit installed in their 2013 police vehicles. The cost of basic SYNC isn’t more than most aftermarket kits when you include installation. The system works with wireless, Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, providing hands-free calling with push-to-talk voice recognition and access to user phonebooks, plus the ability to receive text messages.

Post-crash 9-1-1 and GPS mapping with directions would also help agencies that currently have to mount a standalone aftermarket GPS on the dash of their vehicles. Post-crash 9-1-1 is unique in that it will send an alert to the nearest 9-1-1 Center and advise GPS coordinates of the collision. The agencies that deploy single-officer vehicles in large rural areas can improve officer safety with this feature. If an officer was involved in a single-vehicle collision with no witnesses and was unconscious or unable to call for backup, post-crash 9-1-1 would be the back-up to notify help.

What sets SYNC apart from any similar applications from other automakers is that it’s installed at the factory, is covered under warranty, uses your own mobile phone and is fully upgradeable. Upgrades can be done online by the users themselves, by their own garage technicians, or by the dealer when the vehicle goes in for service. So as more applications and features become available, all that’s required is a simple software upgrade, rather than a forklift and hardware exchange like with other OEMs.

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.

Photos courtesy of Brad Brewer.re


Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jul/Aug 2010

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