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Technology in the Ford NextGen Police Interceptor, Part 2

Written by Brad Brewer

SYNC is an open platform for the Ford / Microsoft engineers. It is sort of like the iPhone platform in that Apple has used the open format which allows virtually anyone to produce and sell an application that will work on its open platform. In the very near future, we could see emergency equipment manufacturers providing a light controller software package that’s loaded onto SYNC, allowing control of the lights and siren without the installation of a separate control head, or at least a smaller backup control head.

Federal Signal is already doing this with a software siren and light controller that run on the laptop. An officer could then simply carry a keyless remote in his pocket which, along with remote vehicle starting, would also be able to control emergency lighting and the siren because it is connected through SYNC.

Another potential SYNC police-exclusive feature is the use of Bluetooth connectivity for the police mobile radio. If SYNC connects to a cellular device through Bluetooth, then why not a police radio? Well, this is currently being explored, and the future looks promising. There are hurdles to overcome like frequency allocation, encryption, interference and reliability, but allowing the police radio to be controlled through SYNC is another example of just how flexible this application is.

Function Without Distraction

One of the primary goals of SYNC is to allow the driver to embrace technology, but use that technology safely without it becoming a distraction. Controlling many of the basic SYNC functions is a button pack on the steering wheel of the retail vehicles. The retail SYNC system allows for steering wheel control of HVAC, stereo, phone and multi-media features.

Ford engineers capitalized on this OEM functionality. On the concept vehicles, they were able to allocate several steering wheel controls for basic emergency vehicle operations. Primary functions like “Push to Talk” police radio would be available from a thumb switch controlled by the driver’s finger while he maintained two hands on the wheel at all times.

Some pundits may say officers under stress need gross motor movements, like grabbing the current radio microphone, even if it means taking one hand off the wheel. Perhaps this is true of the older generation of experienced officers. It won’t be true for the future officers who grew up using a Bluetooth hands-free car kit in the private vehicle.

Also in the steering wheel of the Police Interceptor Concept, Ford has transitioned the factory stereo switches into switches that activate critical emergency equipment controls. This isn’t meant to completely remove the need for a manual control box, but perhaps the newer controllers can be much smaller and used as a backup only, as opposed to the primary emergency light activation source.

Obviously, this can be customized for each agency because there are so many variations. However, basic functionality can be given for Position One (Lights & Siren), Position Two (Lights Only) and Position Three (Rear Lights Only). Essentially, Ford has taken the electric signals sent from the steering wheel switch to the AM/FM radio on the concept vehicle and directed those to a controller that interprets the signal for activation of police-specific equipment.

NextGen SYNC

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Ford stole the spotlight with the release of the next generation SYNC system. This incorporates an in-car WiFi system powered by a customer’s USB mobile broadband modem, turning the entire car into a WiFi hot spot. This new capability will be standard on select SYNC-equipped vehicles, with no additional hardware or subscriptions required beyond the user-supplied mobile broadband modem.

For law enforcement use, you don’t need any additional wireless contracts with this system. You use existing hardware provided by your current wireless provider. This opens up a whole host of solutions for law enforcement, with secure VPN access to administrative Intranet and e-mail applications right from the vehicle. Standard WiFi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) security protocols will be in force, and only agency-permitted devices will be able to access the network, helping ensure secure, robust connectivity for in-vehicle users.

Each law enforcement agency also inserts its existing compatible USB mobile broadband modem, also know as an “air card,” into SYNC’s USB port, which will produce a secure wireless connection that will be broadcast throughout the vehicle, allowing passengers with WiFi-enabled mobile devices to access the Internet anywhere the broadband modem receives connectivity.

The USB port provided by SYNC lets agencies leverage a variety of devices, including the mobile broadband modem. And through simple software updates, SYNC can be adapted to connect with the latest devices. This setup has huge implications for command vehicles where users are in and around the vehicle with handheld devices but still need robust wireless connectivity.

To deal with how fast technology is evolving, particularly obsolescence on the wireless front, Ford has made SYNC work with just about any technology you plug into it. Being factory-installed, the hardware is seamlessly integrated into the vehicle, whereas competitors’ systems are dealer-installed and require a bulky bolt-in receiver and transmitter that take up cabin space.

By leveraging a user’s existing hardware, which can be upgraded independently of SYNC, Ford has ensured “forward compatibility” with whatever police-related connectivity technology comes next. With the SYNC WiFi system, a signal will be broadcast throughout the vehicle, as opposed to an aftermarket modem installed in the trunk with installation and configuration issues that everyone in police IT is familiar with.

Wireless Signals

To be able to use any vehicle as a WiFi hub, the best wireless signal is obtained from a rooftop data antenna. Navigation GPS systems also require a rooftop antenna for best possible coverage. With both installed at the factory, upfitters do not need to tear apart interior components and drill more rooftop antenna mounting holes. Currently, upfitters have to drill multiple holes in the roof and spend many hours removing interior panels to be able to run multiple coax cables from the equipment console to the roof.

The concept vehicles show that Ford is considering allowing upfitters the ability to use the existing coax installed at the factory to have one or two pigtails that outfitters could tie into for police application, specific GPS and data. This idea works similarly for lightbar installation with today’s lightbars and controllers using a single CAT5 cable, power and ground.

Safety Technology

These new Police Interceptor Concepts also show the amount of safety engineering that is now a standard part of the new Ford police package platform. These concept vehicles maintain the industry exclusive 75 mph rear crash testing and are 5-star NHTSA crash rated as well. Optional safety features include a blind-spot warning system, a pre-collision warning system, a cross-traffic warning system (when reversing), a rearview camera and rear parking sensors. Also available are All-Wheel Drive, AdvanceTrac Stability Control, Electronic Power Assist Steering, Adaptive Cruise Control and SYNC Human Machine Interface (HMI).

Adaptive cruise control (ACC) improves on traditional cruise control by allowing a vehicle to automatically adapt to the speed of highway traffic. With ACC, the driver selects a desired interval to follow traffic, as well as the desired cruise speed. When slower traffic is encountered, the ACC alters vehicle speed to maintain the desired interval while following traffic. Speed is controlled by ACC with moderate braking when needed.

When traffic clears, ACC resumes the desired cruise speed. ACC works by driver activation; then a microwave radar unit or laser transceiver on the front of the vehicle determines the distance and relative speed of any vehicle which may be in the path of travel. The ACC computer continually commands the throttle and brakes to maintain cruise speed or adapted speed of traffic. Braking by the driver can override the system at any time.

Many agencies install radar or laser in their patrol units, so the aftermarket radar and laser manufacturers need to determine if they can interface with this OEM system to create an interface that would allow ACC to form part of a radar/laser package for law enforcement use.

In Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS) systems, the traditional hydraulic-assist power-steering pump is replaced with an electric motor. This increases fuel economy because the electric motor operates only when steering assistance is required. Sensors constantly measure steering wheel torque applied by the driver to maintain the vehicle’s path.

Continuous adjustments are made as the system resets to adapt to changing road conditions or maneuvers, such as the vehicle turning a corner. When the system detects a pulling or drifting condition, such as a crowned road surface, it provides torque assistance to help make steering easier. For drivers, this assistance is seamless and imperceptible.

EPAS technology can be fine-tuned by engineers to fit the driving characteristics of varying products, whether it’s a luxury sedan or sporty compact SUV. The new Police Interceptor will have custom police-only tuning for the EPAS system. This EPAS breakthrough is a big deal for many fleet managers, especially with the increase of new officers who have never driven a large sedan in emergency conditions.

Basically, the EPAS system, along with AdvanceTrac Stability Control and ABS, affords the less skilled driver greater leeway before getting into trouble. We often refer to the increased use of seat belts as a top life-saving measure, not only in law enforcement, but among the general motoring public. In reality, the Traction or Stability Control systems, in combination with advancements in ABS braking systems, are probably responsible for saving the greatest number of lives.

As the current segment leader in law enforcement, the legacy Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor is leaving big shoes to fill. Ford platform engineers were well aware of this when they began the process to find a CVPI replacement. While working very closely with its Police Advisory Board, Ford has filled those shoes and then some.

These Police Interceptor Concepts are shining examples of Ford’s commitment to providing the technology front-line officers depend on to protect the rest of us. This close partnership with its Police Advisory Board yielded another clear winner in the next generation police vehicle market.

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.

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2010

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