Necessity: The mother of innovation

29 July 2011

Time was when a state-of-the-art police squad car had a radio and cherry on top. Today, it’s a whole different ball game. Most squad cars are their own rolling command centers and have to handle not only navigation and multiple radio frequences, but also lights, sirens, and data systems designed to give police the quickest, most insightful information they can have.

Most public safety vehicles have that capability. But the capability comes with a price. Bulky systems bolted into the vehicles effectively eliminate 25 percent of the seating capacity. Think about what that means: A partner rides in the back. What if they arrest two bad guys? There is effectively no room for a front-seat passenger.

Here’s another scenario: a massive public-safety emergency overwhelms the radio waves. A commander can’t communicate, while a rookie a block away can. That’s a problem.

Rockwell Collins (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) teamed with Lectronix (Lansing, Mich.) to try to overcome the design and communications challenges. (Hint: Why not put much of the computing capability in the trunk?)

The computing engine of the iForce in the trunk of a Rockwell Collins vehicle

The iForce system features a 13.3-inch touch screen display, voice activation and hand controller that allows control of multiple systems such as radios, sirens, public address, gun locks and radar.

At the heart of the system is the computing module, an integrated vehicle computer and information management system that can be stowed in a trunk space-saving rollout drawer, providing officers integrated real-time communications, electronics and computing in a cost-, space- and weight-efficient package.

The system also provides a P25 radio vehicle repeater system to repeat communications from the officer’s handheld radio through the vehicle’s radios when the officer is outside the vehicle.

Input from a tiger team of two-dozen California cops was crucial to the design considerations. Not only was managing multiple radios important, but simple patrol-car design and safety considerations took precedence; earlier communications and navigation modules were so big (think multiple radio boxes stacked atop each other) that a driver couldn’t get out of the vehicle in a crash (by sliding over and out the passenger side).

We rode along with Rockwell Collins representatives who demo’d the iForce vehicle for us:

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