Cop cars stripped for hi-tech action

Modern cop cars are stunning vehicles, with their light bars and hi-vis paint jobs.

But inside the cabin looks more like a junkyard, with a clutter of computer screens and other added tech designed to nab the bad guys.

This higgledy-piggledy mess could become a thing of the past however as part of an all-Australian initiative, with Fujitsu and Kia Motors Australia working hand in hand to streamline the police car of the future.

If successful, the project could eventually see Kia building hi-tech cop cars for law enforcement departments around the world.

The collaboration has produced a prototype of an artificial intelligence-enabled, digital police car that could not only benefit the police, but emergency services, security services — even couriers and Uber drivers.

Fujitsu, the business information, technology, and communication giant, is developing a software-based platform that integrates the disparate technologies vital to mission-critical work, paving the way for removal of hardware currently taking up space in the cabin and elsewhere around the vehicle.

This goes way beyond technological de-cluttering.

While there are clear visual improvements, digital-age developments allow the removal of costly, unnecessary technology, and reduce the cost of installation and de-installation of equipment — with obvious time savings.

Most importantly, it also provides a safer working environment for law enforcement officers. 

Peek into any highway patrol vehicle today and you’ll see an untidy clutter of semi-permanent fixtures on the dash and console, often obstructing instruments and controls.

Traditionally, 10 to 15 suppliers provide equipment for vehicles, and none talk to each other, says Ian Hamer, principal architect of Fujitsu’s LOT and mobility area.  

“[Currently], to build each highway patrol police car requires multiple tenders from numerous individual suppliers for each piece of equipment, from the car itself to Mobile Data Terminal (MDT), number plate recognition technology, In-Car-Video (ICV) and radar,” he said.

“Everything they put in the car is an ADR (Australian Design Rules) issue. They shove it in and make it work.”

This leaves safety hurdles like airbag compliance. Even the operation of basic airconditioning controls can be compromised.

Hamer insists the new, integrated approach brings significant cost savings because some existing hardware, including expensive radar units, are retained and other items become redundant.

He points out fully-fledged highway patrol cars currently take up to six weeks to build and the fit out involves drilling holes in the sheet metal — obviously not desirable from a lease vehicle perspective.

Hamer believes adoption of the new integrated system will reduce this build time to around two weeks.

Fujitsu’s Ian Hamer.

A standard Kia Stinger model has been used to develop a turnkey solution.

The car’s existing Infotainment screen, shared across the Kia range, has been re-programmed to present information and execute emergency response controls — instead of using a separate screen. 

Fujitsu has demonstrated it can remove surplus equipment, software, hardware, and up to 70kg of cabling from a highway patrol vehicle by integrating the required systems and controls into Kia’s production Stinger and Sorento. 

Helping the process is ever-greater miniaturisation and more powerful systems.

The weight-saving benefits are obvious, with improved fuel consumption, sharper dynamics, and reduced wear and tear. 

As an added bonus, the vehicle can be modified or serviced by any Kia dealer in Australia, reducing time spent off the road at specialised facilities.

Police are often required to operate multiple devices while driving and engaging with offenders at high speeds, so simplifying and streamlining will bring greater safety and security.

Ideally, police also want to reduce the power consumption of lights, sirens, and three or four computers — it’s a big strain on alternators and fuel economy.

The over-riding target is shiny technology that is simple to use.

Police are not tech wizards, so any system has to be flexible and easy to use, with application across different departments.  

Fujitsu’s solution removes the slow and tedious requirement for up to seven logins by incorporating a biometric scanner that reads the palm vein “signature”.  

Palm Secure protects sensitive information, while three single-feature buttons on the front of the gearstick control emergency lights and sirens — so it’s no longer necessary to take your eyes off the road to operate a complex control pad. 

Radar is integrated into the Kia head-up display, removing the dash mounted control box and the irritating doppler tone it produces. 

In phase two of this development, artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities will be able to identify a target vehicle’s make and colour using on-board cameras, and will also be able to recognise stolen cars in a busy car park and traffic.

The technology will even be able to detect if an offender has drawn a weapon and automatically generate an alert.

Fujitsu is working on faster number plate recognition along with the delivery of more information relating to the plate and vehicle.

The roof lightbar now has only one umbilical cord instead of nine different, sometimes heavy cables.

Working closely with emergency warning systems specialist Whelen Engineering, the team has designed a new, modular lightbar that will result in a less invasive installation. 

Another benefit is that cameras placed in the lightbar will be at the optimum height to record video evidence.

The current clutter in patrol cars.

Hamer reveals he has been dreaming of a safer, leaner, smarter police car environment for 10 years.

He finally got the chance to run with the idea after sealing the collaboration with Kia less than a year ago.

The car maker already has Stingers on the fleets of police forces in Western Australia, Queensland, Northern Territory and Tasmania — and is talking with other states.

The Stinger’s performance and safety credentials have played a key part in the decision by police to take the rear-drive Stinger as a pursuit weapon. 

In standard form, it is capable of 0 to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds and has a five-star ANCAP safety rating backed by a seven-year warranty. .

“Fujitsu’s goal was to develop a car that looked like a regular vehicle rather than a highly modified police car,” Hamer said.

“By integrating systems into the inbuilt systems in the vehicle, we were able to remove excess bracketry inside the cabin.”

The next step will be a think tank where police from various departments – general duties, highway, drug squad and covert operations and police IT specialists – will be able to identify and deal with possible problems.

Fujitsu believes this project has a much wider application than just the police.

It is working to develop an enhanced vehicle ecosystem by extending the technology to meet multiple vehicle needs, including ambulance, fire and rescue services, security vehicles and taxis.

Given the green light, Hamer says the more basic offering for general duties work could be operational in a couple of months, with new-look highway patrol cars ready in about a year.

Looking further into the future, there is higher-tech work in play for more advanced, speedier facial recognition, and to pre-empt dangerous situations.

And for Kia there is the exciting potential to build police cars for the world.

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