Ah, the talking car: the promise of complete interactivity between driver and vehicle. In the past, the only place to find such a thing was on TV, such as the Pontiac Trans Am known as Kit on the television show Knight Rider, which was on from 1982-1986. In reality, the closest thing to talking vehicles we had came equipped with that infuriating Your door is ajar monologue blaring from the footwell. Other than that, more recent years have added talking GPS navigation systems, but the prospects of having your own Kit in the patrol barn or driveway hadn t yet materialized.Until now.
Enter Project 54, a platform designed to integrate real-time information processing for patrol vehicles and the control of in-car equipment through speech command. Launched by the University of New Hampshire, Project 54 features the integration of both hardware (in the form of a dedicated computer, keyboard, etc.) and software to control information databases. Because the patrol car environment is filled with numerous distractions that tempt the officer to divert attention from driving (radios, an MDT, a laptop, siren box, the light bar, the video system, LOJACK, printers, spotlights, etc.), the Project54 system is controlled by both a touch screen and a microphone for speech commands. Functions like the overhead lights, siren and video system are controlled by speech command, allowing the officer to keep both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
Project54 is unique because it s configured to use preloaded databases to control each vehicle s computer and accommodate real-time dispatch calls, video, etc. While Project54 is a university project and contains some proprietary hardware, it s only natural that the law enforcement marketplace would see its benefit and develop a system applicable to a variety of agencies.
The Next Step
One company that has drawn on Project54 technology is 54Ward. Founded in 2006 and based in New York, the company has taken the basic structure of Project54 and made it feasible to integrate into patrol vehicles. The company recognizes that many departments use different equipment, so their COREcommand program is software-based instead of hardware-based. According to Brent Hubbell, who works on the technical side of 54ward, the system can be integrated with numerous existing MDT platforms, siren boxes, video systems, etc. He says that another advantage of the software-based design is that should there be a system failure, the normal control options for the siren, light bar, video system, etc. can be used. Another benefit: It doesn t require a complete redesign of the interior or trunk to accommodate the system. Agencies can simply install the software and choose what options they want to utilize. The only real addition to the interior is the microphone for speech recognition, while the exterior gets a GPS disc antennae on the trunk or roof. Other than that, the system is operated using a department s existing touch-screen MDT.
Recently, I had the opportunity to test out the COREcommand system, which can be controlled almost entirely by voice. Using a microphone mounted on the driver-side visor, the system recognized my commands without fail. The microphone is activated by a push-to-talk switch, which can be mounted on the floor under the mat, or through the use of one of the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel.
The system is broken down into several areas. The first is the Touch Control interface, which allows the user to use the MDT screen to access functions for emergency lights, radios, radar, video, CAD, NCIC and other components. The software interface was easy to use, with large buttons that were clearly marked. The second area is the Voice Control, which can control all of the above systems through speech commands. This is a huge safety benefit to officers in the field because it allows you to focus on driving and addressing hazards outside the patrol vehicle. Because items like the light bar can be incrementally controlled through voice commands (i.e. rear ambers, front red/blue, takedowns, etc.), officers can keep their eyes on a violator vehicle the entire time instead of having to fumble for takedown switches, deactivate sirens and the like. The third area is Traditional Control, which simply means that all in-car equipment will work if the software crashes.
The COREcommand system allows for custom configuration of the display screen. For example, if you work in an area where you regularly use many radio frequencies to communicate with other agencies, you can configure the screen to highlight available radio channels. You can locate a frequency by either using the touch screen to find it, or simply talking to the system.
You can obtain similar results through other command screens. Want to run radar? Request the radar screen and control all radar functions through voice or touch command. Video? The same applies, and you can view both radar and video on the same screen to monitor traffic stops while retaining radar information.
Another interesting option is the ability to run NCIC queries and license plates using voice activation. Upon viewing a license plate of interest, you activate the push-to-talk switch and tell the system the plate number. The system utilizes the existing MDT records-query system to obtain a result and then audibly provides the requested information. (Automated license plate recognition can also be integrated into the system.) This entire transaction takes place with the officer maintaining a constant view of the suspect vehicle, keeping both hands on the wheel and vision outside of the car. Emergency controls can be accessed the same way. Simply speak Traffic stop or Pursuit into the microphone, and pre-set light and siren options will automatically activate. How many times have we seen an officer pull up to an emergency situation with siren blasting, park their car, get out and run off with the siren still blaring? With the COREcommand system, you could push the talk switch, and tell the system to shut the siren off as you come to a stop. You never have to take your eyes off the situation, don t lose any valuable time and eliminate a potentially hazardous situation created by the unneeded siren.
Finally, a GPS function allows for locating any patrol vehicle at any time, and provides the data to whatever reporting system desires it.
Of course, a system like the COREcommand is only good if it works with existing hardware in your department vehicle. Hubbell says 54ward has worked hard with police equipment manufacturers to ensure compatibility. A quick review of 54ward s Web site
( www.54ward.com ) shows that big time players like Code 3, Federal Signal, Data911, Motorola, MPH, Panasonic and Whelen are all compatible with the COREcommand software. So, it s a good bet that whatever your department currently uses, 54ward software will work with it.
Just a few years ago, a patrol car with voice-command controlled functions was simply unheard of. But, in terms of safety and efficiency, there seems to be no better place than inside the confines of the modern police vehicle.
For more information on Project 54, visit www.project54.unh.edu, or contact Brent Hubbell 54ward at [email protected] If you have the September/October 2005 issue of Law Officer, check out the story on Project 54 on p. 50. If you don’t have it, e-mail [email protected] for an electronic version.