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Unity Eye Beam Spotlight-Warning System

Written by Kevin Urbanek

A traffic officer is faced with a variety of dangers when conducting a traffic stop, not the least of which is the occupant of the stopped vehicle. These dangers, coupled with multiple tasks requiring an officer’s attention during a stop and a rapidly changing dynamic environment, can prove to be challenging even for experienced officers.

With its newly developed Eye Beam™ post-mount spotlight and supplemental officer warning system, Unity Manufacturing helps to mitigate some of the dangers of diverted attention on traffic stops. The Unity Eye Beam post-mount spotlight offers more than the conventional vehicle-mounted spotlight.

This is a motion detecting alarm system that is affixed to a standard Unity spotlight that will help alert an officer of potential dangers. The Eye Beam would ideally be employed during a traffic stop, aimed at the driver’s door, providing an extra set of eyes while the officer is writing citations or is operating the computer.

When the laser is broken by motion, an alarm sounds in conjunction with flashing LED lights, alerting the officer to the movement. The audible alarm beeps at a volume of about 108 decibels. This is roughly equivalent to the sound of a work vehicle’s back-up alarm or a smoke detector. The alarm is loud enough to be heard above the ambient noise produced by most environments including passing traffic.

The green LED light indicates that the sensor is monitoring and the red LED light indicates that the sensor is not monitoring. The red LED light can also be an indicator of a potential problem with the system or how it is aimed.

Officer Input

The concept was developed by Unity, which—along with Trico—was approached by a couple of members of the law enforcement community who saw a need for extra vigilance while conducting traffic stops. The goal was to create a laser system that works with the spotlight to help make traffic stops safer.

Most officers who have spent time on the street have had the unsettling occasion to be startled by an unexpected approach to the squad by the person they are stopping while their attention was diverted. It is never a good feeling. Whereas most people who do approach the squad are not intent on doing the officer harm, there are those who would.

Many residents are not familiar with the training principles officers are taught about traffic stops or the paranoia that is the byproduct of the training. The Eye Beam could help avoid these awkward situations and the potentially more hazardous repercussions. Testing and development was conducted in Springfield, TN, where feedback was incorporated from officers who were using the product in the field.

Three Laser Beams

The Eye Beam consists of a sensor mounted on the spotlight that emits three laser beams, which are powered by Trico SideEyes technology. The laser beams are invisible to the naked eye and can be aimed in conjunction with the spotlight, using the light beam as reference. The laser beams have a range of up to 35 feet and are about 40 inches wide. The beams are directed to hit about 18 inches below the center of the spotlight beam. The laser beams, however, cannot be aimed independently of the spotlight.

The sensor is housed on top of the spotlight in a casing that protects it from the elements. The system has two different functions that come preprogrammed: manually activated mode and self-activated mode. Unity suggests that when using the Eye Beam for a traffic stop, the officer should aim the spotlight at the driver’s side door / rear view mirror of the offending vehicle so that the beam can detect both the driver’s door opening and the vehicle pulling away. The beam however can be aimed at any stationary object.

While in self-activated mode, the system will activate when the spotlight is turned on after a five-second delay, intended to allow time for aiming. Unity recommends this mode for frequent traffic stops. In manually activated mode, the officer can turn the sensors on or off, independently of the spotlight, depending on the need. The lasers will not activate however, without the spotlight being turned on.

Toggling between the two modes is accomplished by first holding down the button while the spotlight is off, and then activating the spotlight while continuing to depress the button. If the sensor is set and the officer approaches the target vehicle, the alarm will sound if the officer breaks the plane of the lasers. However, after a short period of use, the officer can become familiar enough with the parameters of the lasers as to be able to avoid breaking the beam.

The manually activated mode would seem to be the more relevant mode for most users. Also, if you use your spotlight for reasons other than traffic stops, the manually activated override is a necessity. The manually activated mode gives the officer the freedom to activate the sensor only when needed.

Factory Option

Unity representatives plan to introduce their product to the larger departments and gain acceptance within the industry. Expect to see the Eye Beam in early use by departments such as the Chicago Police Department; the Illinois State Police; the Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff; the Dade County, FL Sheriff and the Broward County, FL Sheriff. They have also been working the convention circuit including the IACP, the National Sheriff’s Convention and the Police Fleet Expo, along with automotive industry conventions.

They already have a distribution apparatus in place for their other products. This means that the Eye Beam will be available through almost any source through which their spotlights are purchased. The Eye Beam will be available through parts stores (NAPA and Carquest) and other large police gear suppliers (Galls). The units can be ordered through the car dealer who will order them through the distributors. They will sell directly to upfitters or departments. The Eye Beam can be written into new vehicle specifications.

Unity intends the Eye Beam to eventually become a factory option like their other spotlights. Unity has presented the Eye Beam to Ford’s Police Advisory Board, one of the first steps to the implementation as a factory option. Unity said that the board members appreciated the unique features of the Eye Beam but it was taking a “wait and see” approach before it implemented it as an original equipment option. Specifically, the members want to determine if the “take rate” is high enough to make it a feasible business practice.

Retrofit and Installation

The Eye Beam can be retrofitted to any Unity spotlight dating back to the 1940s. Unity officials anticipate that the majority of the orders they receive will at first be for the retrofits. The retrofitting of the Eye Beam is just as easy as changing a bulb and is almost the same process. Retrofitting the Eye Beam to your fleet vehicles can be accomplished by a fleet mechanic and does not require any specialized technicians. The installation of the retrofit model will take about 10 minutes per vehicle.

Installation of the Eye Beam is virtually the same as installing a spotlight. The full Eye Beam will be available for the popular police models of Chevy, Dodge, and Ford vehicles. The Eye Beam is available for both driver and passenger sides of the vehicles.

The Eye Beam has an MSRP of about $550 for the full unit, spotlight and all. The retrofit unit will cost about $450, which is essentially a replacement head for the spotlight that has the sensors housed in it. The normal Unity spotlight costs between $110 and $150 for a full unit with brackets.

Practical Use

One of the considerations when using the Eye Beam is weather. The Eye Beam’s housing is fully protected from water and moisture and is designed to allow heat buildup to escape. The housing has also survived testing through car washes. Rain is generally said not to affect the functionality of the Eye Beam at all. The sensor lens is made from a durable plastic similar to the lens of the spotlight but it can be scratched and damaged.

There are, however, some circumstances that will not allow the Eye Beam to work as designed. One condition that can cause problems is extreme fog. If the fog is too thick, the lasers will not be able to penetrate it to find a target, not unlike the spotlight itself, which obviously doesn’t penetrate fog.

Another condition to consider is snow, ice and sleet. If snow or ice builds up on the sensor, the laser will not be able to penetrate it. It will be necessary to keep the sensors unobstructed before use. This may prove difficult in a slushy or wet snow environment. The sensors are recessed to help combat any snow or ice build up, but keeping the sensor pointing down when not in use as is typical of a spotlight. Caution should be exercised when attempting to scrape off ice.

The recommended use of the Unity Eye Beam is for traffic stops while the officer’s attention is diverted. Some examples are an officer writing a citation, working the radio or computer, or returning to the squad from the suspect vehicle. The Eye Beam could also alert of someone approaching your flank while you are at the driver’s window of the suspect’s car.

However, the Eye Beam is certainly not limited to those functions alone. Officers have historically been creative in the use of their tools to adapt and overcome. Other possible uses include aiming the Eye Beam at a door or window of one side of a building during a premise search to alert the officer of anyone escaping from the unsecured side.

Another is for situations where you have a perimeter but the officer’s attention is directed toward a target. Simply direct the laser along the police line. If something were to breech the perimeter, the audible notification could be valuable. This could also be helpful in securing crime scene perimeters and maintaining their integrity.

During our demo of the Eye Beam, it performed as designed, for the most part. I was able to observe the Eye Beam in both daylight and dusk / night conditions. The version of the Eye Beam we reviewed was a later prototype. We experienced some minor difficulties at startup that were quickly rectified. Full production models and parts are currently being produced for the release date of October 2006.

The Eye Beam concept is innovative. Several officers at my department who had the opportunity to use the Eye Beam and witness its functions agreed it could truly be a resource for added officer safety. However, the Eye Beam is just a tool to be used in conjunction with, not in place of, sound and established, officer safety practices. Always remember complacency kills.

Witness a demonstration of this product for yourself. Buy one or two retrofit units and install them on the squads that conduct the most traffic stops. This alone might be adequate for the needs of some departments, but it will allow your troops to become familiar with the product and help gauge its effectiveness for your situation before outfitting the entire fleet.

Kevin Urbanek is an eight-year veteran of the Calumet City Police Deptartment in Calumet City, IL. He is currently a sergeant assigned to Patrol Division and has served in the Tactical Division, as well. He holds multiple instructor certifications in both the tactical and technical aspects of policing. He can be reached at CCPD185@fop.net.

Published in Law and Order, Sep 2006

Rating : 7.3


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