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FedSig and Next Gen Police Interceptor

Written by Brad Brewer

Federal Signal Corp., one of the oldest public safety-focused companies in the world, recently met with the members of the Ford Police Advisory Board (PAB) in Dearborn, MI. The discussions was about the future of the Ford police vehicle program and how technology, from any vendor, could play a part in what is to come.

Federal Signal, Ford, and Crown Industries, already partners in the standardization of outfitting, are well known for the factory-approved prep packages offered today on the CVPI directly from the factory.

Federal Signal’s Bryan Boettger, vice president and general manager of Federal Signal’s Public Safety Systems Division, and Gregory A. Sink, vice president of Business Development for Federal Signal, spoke to the board. They specifically touched on the industry push toward a fully modular solution that is expandable and that enables easier upfitting and lower total cost of ownership.

“In the future, we see a police vehicle that has a box in the trunk, and in that ‘hub’ numerous modular cards will provide a suite of vehicular emergency equipment, including siren, light controller, data network, Wi-Fi, land-based radio or Voice over IP, license plate recognition, mobile video, integrated traffic systems, collision warning systems, lane departure systems and night vision capabilities,” Sink said.

The typical police vehicle has four key pieces of basic emergency equipment: lights, sirens, speakers and accessories. To reduce duplication and enhance the effectiveness of the officer’s mission to serve and protect, many of these components can be fully integrated into a seamless solution. Federal Signal’s integrated vehicle control system (IVCS) converges all these disparate technologies to create the fully integrated police vehicle of tomorrow.

The possibilities are endless, but the idea is very simple. The company wants to provide a platform that is an industry standard and a system that is modular or “a la cart” so each agency can pick and choose its own unique configuration for its specific needs. This type of planned “platform expansion” is the way of the future for all law enforcement equipment suppliers.

The Federal Signal VelocityMDS mobile data system provides a fully functional mobile software application that fully integrates with the vehicle’s other emergency equipment. The VelocityMDS software enables the Federal Signal SmartSiren electronic siren and light control system to be displayed and utilized as a Graphical User Interface (GIU) to reduce the redundancy involved in having a separate hardware controller for the lights and siren system.

The VelocityMDS system also enables integration with the Federal Signal VelocityCAM in-car video and data system, which, again, works off the same laptop and provides next generation mobile video with four-channel recording and two-channel audio. Integration with the MDT laptop allows for airbag safety zone clutter to be removed by not having to install a second screen just for video. This system also allows for fully integrated AVL/GPS systems with maps that enable specific agency customization.

In addition to running multiple applications on the single laptop, Federal Signal’s advanced PIPS Automatic License Plate Recognition technology (ALPR) uses the widely deployed Federal Signal PIPS P362 ALPR camera, which is also fully integrated. This system has dual sensor color overview, infrared plate capture, is certified eye safe and delivers illumination in the same IP67 certified housing.

It also meets numerous third party certifications for extreme weather and operating environments. The first generations of this technology were big and cumbersome, often difficult to install and difficult to conceal. Federal Signal’s latest version, The Slate low-profile ALPR camera, is completely integrated into any lightbar application with a sleek, unobtrusive design.

Federal Signal’s goal is to enable a fully networked vehicle solution for law enforcement. Along with the VelocityMDS system controlling a whole host of technologies, Federal Signal provides mobile radio interoperability with its Federal Signal SmartMSG critical communications system, which also acts as a message server. The Federal Signal SmartMSG radio interoperability unit (RIU) provides situational awareness, presence tracking, wide area alerting, Sat/Cellular/802.11+16 support, and AC power is not required.

This “industry standardization” idea is new to outfitting but not new to North American Public Safety as land-based mobile radio has for years been working on the “APCO 25” or “Project 25” standard. Project 25 is a set of standards produced through joint efforts of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the National Association of State Telecommunications Directors (NASTD), selected federal agencies and the National Communications System, and standardized under the Telecommunications Industry Association.

The P25 suite of standards was established to address the need for a common digital public safety radio communications standard for first responders, regardless of who the equipment manufacturer is.
Essentially with these standards now in place, any law enforcement agency can have a variety of different vendor’s radio equipment, and the radios will all work together. This makes for a more level playing field, and along with commonality comes lower over all cost to the customer. This allows agencies to purchase from multiple vendors and enjoy complete interoperability.

So if they apply the same interoperability P25 standards to emergency vehicle outfitting, they would provide the greatest range of equipment integration and purchase flexibility. For example, let’s say an agency selected a particular vendor’s lighting package but not its matching siren / light controller. The agency could purchase the first vendor’s lighting package “card” and another vendor’s siren / light controller “card” and install them both in the industry-standardized component “tray” or “platform” that sits in the trunk.

The tray or hub could have the ability to hold a dozen cards for everything including, lights, sirens, GPS, digital radios, mobile video, ALPR, radar, Bluetooth, printers, lane departure systems, collision warnings systems, night vision, speed monitoring, and many others. Regardless of the options chosen, they would all be compatible as defined by a single industry standard. All the different manufacturer’s products would install in the “standardized” platform.

Just think about the simplicity of repairs and servicing if all you have to do is open the trunk and pull out a card replacing it with a new one as apposed to taking out a specific controller or power supply and replacing it with the exact same one. The savings in shop time and vehicle downtime alone will be significant, not to mention the logistics for fleet staff members who have to get the vehicles back into service.

Federal Signal believes this standardization will improve total cost of ownership for law enforcement, reduce initial installation costs, eliminate redundant technologies, enable greater agency customization and provide complete integration of all new emerging technologies.

The emergency vehicle equipment industry is already moving in this direction, and it’s long overdue. The Ford CVPI OEM electrical connections define the type of connector that all aftermarket suppliers need to interface to. The CVPI headlight flasher system is an example of this working now. The vehicle manufacturer defines a specific standard connector that everyone will be required to connect with.

Along with the move to low-amp LED lighting technology is the transition of wiring lightbars with a single CAT5 cable and a single power wire. Solar panels built into the lightbar might get you an amp or two but not significant enough to run a lightbar for any sustained period. For the time being, the standard continues to be a CAT5 connection from controller to lightbar along with a single power wire.

If every company made its controller to accept a CAT5 cable, then each agency could choose its components separately as apposed to a package. Controllers are modular and, regardless of which manufacturer you choose, you could have a complete plug-and-play system.

There are some excellent prefabricated wire harnesses out on the market that provide a standard for all law enforcement vehicles regardless of duty type. By interfacing these pre-fab harnesses with the Ford OEM connections, you can be secure in knowing everything is connected correctly and to OEM factory standards. MNStar and others make some great harnesses that offer everything an agency could need with labeled and color-coded wiring.

The MNStar harness is another step toward standardization of fleets, providing optimum component performance, improved build times, simplified troubleshooting and reduced downtime. Some agencies say up to eight hours of labor per vehicle can be saved with standardizing on a single pre-fab harness in all vehicles.

The “Holy Grail” of lightbars would be a completely wireless lightbar, but how do you control it? Bluetooth®? What about interference? These are mission-critical systems that have to work, so would each vehicle require redundant controllers? How can you guarantee performance with a wireless controller without duplicating controllers?

In the past, some manufacturers have offered a completely automated police vehicle with almost everything controlled by a single screen in the vehicle. The vehicle relied heavily on voice recognition and heads-up display on the windshield. The “TacNet” car, or “Project 54,” car produced some very interesting technological advancements, which many see as the next generation. Maybe most officers are just traditionalists or simply difficult to teach, but many didn’t look favorably on some of the advancements.

Voice recognition is cutting-edge technology with great promise, but there are still some things to work out, according to some. Voice recognition has to “learn” the specific nuances or annunciations of each individual officer. When setting the system up, you are typically relaxed and not under any great stress. In the real world, officers placed in a dynamic, life-threatening situation are under extreme stress. When this occurs, the officer’s voice will typically change. Sometimes it’s difficult for the voice recognition software to understand the stressed voice commands, and it is at this moment when system failure is not an acceptable option.

Some things in a police vehicle need to be manually activated. This is not unlike the same thought process that OEM vehicle manufacturers deal with when designing door, radio, HVAC, and window controls. Officers want manual control of certain pieces of equipment and most would probably say the lights and siren controller needs to be manual.

Officers train with their firearms over and over, and muscle memory is what allows an officer to execute fine motor skills under stress when often it is stress that diminishes fine motor skills. Having a fleet of vehicles with different siren and light controllers is dangerous and often frustrating to those who use them.

As the vehicle manufacturers are forced by legislation to make their vehicles more efficient, weight reduction strategies are causing the size of light housings to be reduced. This is in turn causing a bigger challenge for emergency lighting companies like Federal Signal to design and produce lighting products that can be easily installed in turn signal and brake light housings. The traditional strobes in the corner marker lights are being replaced with LED lighting. While the first few generations were not very bright, the latest offerings rival anything the old strobes could display.

Just look at how good the LED take-down and alley lights are now compared to the first generations. Most weren’t very bright and had little or no focus. This caused most agencies to configure their new low-amp-draw LED lightbars with old school higher amp drawing halogen take-down and alley lights. This ultimately defeated the main purpose of switching to LED lighting. The latest generations of LED take-downs and alley lights offer superb brightness along with much better focus.

Not only are aftermarket suppliers beginning the transition to a standard outfitting configuration, but the OEM vehicle manufacturers are starting to offer OEM accessories that can be fully integrated into today’s law enforcement vehicles.

One of the opportunities being discussed is the ability for the Ford / Microsoft Sync system to provide some of these technologies right from production. The Sync product already provides GPS and cellular Bluetooth capabilities that law enforcement needs. The Sync platform could be looked upon like the iPhone platform. Apple has used the open format, which allows virtually anyone to produce and sell an application that will work on the open platform.

In the future, we could see the emergency equipment manufacturers providing a light controller software package that is loaded onto Ford Sync and controls the lights and siren without the installation of a separate controller head. This is exactly what Federal Signals SmartSiren computer GUI can do right now.

The officer can then simply carry a keyless remote in his pocket, which would be able to control emergency lighting and sirens along with remote vehicle starting. Sync already incorporates Bluetooth technology, so installation of aftermarket hands-free kits will no longer be required. The system works with wireless Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, providing hands-free calling with push-to-talk voice recognition, access to user phonebooks, plus the ability to receive text messages.

Ford’s “Work Solution” is doing this now as a professional platform of software applications and hard product features, designed to help make law enforcement more productive and successful. It offers full mobile office functionality while performing a variety of other tasks. It features a bright, high-resolution 6.5-inch in-dash screen with a wireless keyboard, built-in USB port or SD memory card slot, and a Bluetooth®-enabled wireless inkjet printer.

Wireless Internet connectivity through high-speed Sprint® Mobile Broadband Network provides remote computer access to dial in administrative systems or the ability to access a remote office. Navigation by Garmin® includes turn-by-turn directions and voice prompts. The Tool Link system uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track equipment from the back of a truck.

This has added value for law enforcement for specialty units that have an abundance of expensive specialized equipment. Traffic investigation units, dive teams, SWAT, forensic units all could benefit from this technology. One lost piece of specialized police equipment could pay for the entire Tool Link system.

As the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor gets closer to its final production in June 2011, Ford’s next generation police interceptor will have the benefit of Ford’s never-ending commitment to technology. Ford has numerous innovations with adaptive cruise control, Sync, and many others. The difficulty now is deciding what should be part of the OEM specs for a police car versus what is not cost effective for law enforcement.

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 manufactures 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. As the older technology goes away, so do things like vehicle speed sensor wires (VSS). This is where most radar or laser systems get the vehicle speed from when calculating violator vehicle speed. The new police interceptor won’t have a VSS wire; aftermarket manufacturers will now need to find a new way to get the police vehicle speed data to their radar / laser units.

OEM navigation systems always require a rooftop antenna, which is typically installed at the factory. Now, law enforcement outfitters have to drill multiple holes in the roof and spend many hours removing interior panels for running multiple coax cables from equipment console to the roof. It makes more sense to do this when the factory is already running the same coax cable to include a RG58U coax or two for the outfitters who will want to add extra antennas. Ideally, it would be best to have the OEM antenna that is installed at the factory to have one or two pigtails that outfitters could tie into for GPS or data requirements.

Antenna products have come a long way in the past few years. Most agencies that choose an external antenna have gone for a low profile. These low-profile designs are more cost effective, less obtrusive, less prone to damage from car washes or vandalism and easier to install. One of the most progressive antenna developers in North America is AntennaPlus (AP) from Scottsdale, AZ. AntennaPlus has produced some low-profile antennas that have simply revolutionized the outfitting of public safety vehicles.

Recently, AntennaPlus (www.antennaplus.com) has come up with a combination antenna that saves time and money by combining DATA, GPS and Wi-Fi all in one antenna. The AP Navigator offers a 12-channel Trimble GPS chipset, removing the need to purchase a stand-alone GPS module for inside the vehicle. This reduces installation time, support and initial hardware purchase costs. With this product, only one hole is drilled, and all cabling is included.

This antenna solves the dilemma that many agencies face when outfitting their mobile computing systems as most laptop docking stations only allow for two technologies to be passed through to the roof. Data and GPS are the most common, but there may still be a need for Wi-Fi, which is already included in the AP Navigator cable setup.

The next wireless technology to find its way into law enforcement vehicles will most likely be WiMAX, meaning Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. WiMAX is a telecommunications technology that provides wireless transmission of data using a variety of transmission modes, from point-to-multipoint links to portable and fully mobile Internet access. WiMAX is an option now because of its ability to offer larger bandwidth as Wi-Fi hotspots get more and more crowded with retail users.

The big wireless carriers are fully committed to developing and implementing various WiMAX networks for public access. In May of 2008, Sprint, Imagine, Google, Intel, Comcast, and Time Warner announced a pooling of an average of 120 MHz of spectrum and formed a new WiMAX company called Clearwire. The benefit to law enforcement is faster speeds, greater bandwidth and longer distances than are currently available with Wi-Fi.

The next few years of police vehicle development will be very exciting as this is the first time the Ford engineers have had the opportunity to consult law enforcement before the vehicle is released. The members of the Ford Police Advisory Board take this responsibility very seriously, and all members of the board are committed to a partnership with Ford in an effort to produce the finest purpose-built police interceptor ever released.

Regardless of the technology, it is certain that the next Ford police interceptor will be well equipped from the factory with the latest in technology. Just look at what Ford is doing on its retail vehicle technology development to see where the roadmap will take us. Ford’s partnership with Federal Signal and all the approved aftermarket equipment suppliers will undoubtedly continue to be the leader in police vehicle products as it has been for years.

Brad Brewer is a sergeant with the Vancouver Police Department. He can be reached at brad.brewer@vpd.ca.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jul/Aug 2009

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Federal SignalFord Motor Company
 

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ALPR (Automated License Plate Recognition)Federal Signal Solaris LEDVelocityMDS
 

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