Va. police testing voice-activated cruisers

By Cindy Clayton
The Virginian-Pilot

Chesapeake, Va. When Anthony Duez was a boy, he could only dream of chasing bad guys and driving a talking car called K.I.T.T.

Duez watched the car and its sidekick, Michael Knight, played by David Hasselhoff, pursue justice on TV's "Knight Rider" every week.

Now Duez make that Officer Duez has his chance every day.

The Chesapeake police officer started testing a voice-activated hardware and software system two months ago in his new Dodge Charger that responds to voice commands.

The car doesn't have special rocket launchers or ejection seats like K.I.T.T, Duez joked. But the system's goal is to give officers a safer ride, especially in high-pressure situations such as pursuits.

"You don't really have to pay attention to the controls on your console," Duez said. "The more you're distracted by your controls, the more of a chance you can do something wrong."

Instead of trying to look at his police radio to change channels, he can push a big red button installed in the car and say, "channel up" or "channel down," Duez said Tuesday .

The system repeats the command using a computer-generated voice chosen by the officer from a list. Duez picked "Microsoft Mary" over "Microsoft Mike" or "Sam."

Mary can't tell Duez if he's in danger or talk to him about the weather. But the system, by a company called 54ward Integrated Solutions, is capable of turning on the traffic officer's dash-mounted radar system, changing the channels or volume on his radio and switching the screen on his computer to allow him to check a criminal record.

The system cost about $6,000 and also can be programmed so officers can ask for a motorist's license information rather than typing it in, Duez said. The system couldn't be fully integrated in his car because the Police Department's software doesn't work with the voice-activated system. If the city decides to switch software, it will be even easier for officers to use, Duez said.

Sometimes, Duez admits, he reverts to flipping all the switches and pushing all the buttons himself.

After all, he said, his car isn't quite K.I.T.T.

Copyright 2007 The Virginian-Pilot

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