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November 26, 2012
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

Chrysler Uconnect may replace the mobile computer

Company has begun an experimental program in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department to change the way officers use computing power in their car

The designs of the latest police package vehicles acknowledge the amount and placement of the gear that has to fit inside them. Ford’s Interceptor Utility (a re-badged Explorer) has a column shifter, as the conventional shifter on the center console would get in the way of the mobile computer installed in most patrol cars these days.

Chrysler has an experimental program in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department to take that one step farther and use the computer systems already installed in the car to replace portions of the mobile computer.

Ford has Sync. BMW has the iDrive. Chrysler’s interface system is called UConnect.

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All of these systems try to unify control of the car’s information, entertainment, and environmental control systems into a single unit, operated by voice commands or simplified manual controls tied into a single dashboard display.

Depending on what you’re doing at any given moment, the central dash display shows a navigation map, the name of the song playing on the radio or music player, subject lines of incoming emails or text messages, or the cabin temperature and controls.

The primary obstacle to using this for a computer display to replace a public safety mobile computer was size. The vehicle dash displays max out at eight inches or so diagonally, and most are smaller. A mobile data display needs to be about 12 inches for minimum legibility.

The experimental Uconnect display is 12.1 inches, built by Continental Engineering Services. It still shows the features in consumer Uconnect models, but is also intended to display the information shown on LAPD’s existing mobile computers.

Data such as details of dispatched or pending calls, returns from wants and registration checks, text messages between units, and status updates all show up on the displays now in use.

If this works out, the computer processing hardware will probably reside in a box under the seat or in the trunk, along with the data modem, radio transmitter, and other electronics usually installed in patrol cars.

Where or even whether a keyboard will fit in is conjecture, but keyboards can be configured to a very small footprint, stowable on the floor or underneath the dash.

The only police car with a built-in display to date is the yet-to-be-seen E7 from Carbon Motors. Carbon Motors aims to produce a purpose-built police car with emergency lights, sirens, radios, data displays, gun racks, prisoner cages and all the other hardware already built in, all made in the USA.

Buyers would need only to slap their livery on the doors and start patrol. It’s a great and noble idea, but maybe not so viable from a funding perspective.

Carbon hoped to have an operating model on the road by now, but they’ve had financing issues. The most recent postings on their website are four months old.

Even if they do produce a car, many potential buyers will hold back on purchases to avoid buying a lemon. The first-year production of any new model car is often filled with problems the maker couldn’t foresee until a few thousand of them are on the road (I was once the owner of a 1976 VW Scirocco, which came with a membership in VW’s Part of the Month Club).

If experienced auto makers have that much difficulty getting it right, how is a brave new company going to be able to make a glitch-free car on the first try?

The more likely solution probably lies with the product from an existing auto maker. If the Uconnect experiment works out, you can expect GM and Ford to follow suit to stay competitive.

Let’s hope for the best, as police car cockpits could stand to be a little less crowded.  

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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