N.H. police get voice technology for cruisers

Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)
AMHERST — One of the most dangerous situations that police officers face on a daily business doesn't involve guns or drug dealers or armed standoffs, but their own police cruisers.

Officers must take their hands off the steering wheel to talk on the radio, type information into their onboard computers or turn lights and sirens on and off, putting them at risk of car accidents. But a new technology funded by the University of New Hampshire is helping to mitigate that risk.

On Monday night, Amherst Police Chief Peter Lyon gave the board of selectmen and members of the public a tour of a cruiser that has recently been outfitted with new Project 54 voice command technology.

Project 54, part of a cooperative effort between the University of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Department of Safety, has been outfitting police cars with the voice-command technology across the state over the past two years.

For Amherst, the program has meant vital new equipment for the police department with little cost to the town. According to Lyon, nearly $42,000 worth of gear has been given to the department.

"It really came at a nice time," Lyon said, outside of town hall with a crowd gathered around the newly outfitted cruiser. "We received new LED light bars, new sirens, new switching equipment and rugged new laptops that can take more impact than regular computers."

What's special about the equipment is that it's all voice activated. An officer can turn on the lights and sirens, change the channel on the radio, or run a license plate number on the onboard computer without ever taking his or her hands off the wheel.

The computer can also copy text to voice, so that an officer can hear the result of a license check without having to take his or her eyes off the road to look at the computer screen.

And although the voice recognition software will respond to anyone's voice, Lyon added that officers have a master switch they can employ when transporting someone who's been arrested.

"The officers can turn it off if they have to," Lyon said.

Six of Amherst's fleet of cruisers have been outfitted with the new technology, at a cost of $7,000 a piece, and Lyon said the system is just another tool his officers can use to stay out of harm's way.

"This has made the cruisers a little safer for our officers," Lyon said, "and it's always nice to get free equipment." 

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