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Motorola unveils new multi-band radios at APCO

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By Doug Wyllie
PoliceOne Senior Editor

Yesterday at the 74th Annual APCO International event in Kansas City, Motorola announced a new line of portable and in-car radio units that address individual usability and multi-agency interoperability. In effect, the design team at Motorola sought to improve the way in which an officer interacts with the radio itself, and how the radio interacts with the wireless networks (both present day and future generation) used by public safety agencies across the country.

The APX 7500 (in-car) and the APX 7000 (handheld portable) units are Project 25 (P25) Phase I compliant and are upgradeable to support P25 Phase II for better spectrum utilization when that becomes available. Both units operate in 700MHz and 800 MHz as well as VHF swaths of wireless spectrum and will be available in other bands as they become available.

“This radio, we believe, is a game-changing radio,” Motorola senior director of product marketing Tom Quirke told PoliceOne in an exclusive interview.

Quirke tells PoliceOne that the APX 7000 portable unit is 50 percent louder and has more room at the top of the unit for manipulating the knobs and dials – added space that Motorola touts making the radio “easy to use, even when you're wearing gloves.” Meanwhile, these handhelds are somewhat smaller than the company’s earlier-generation XTS 5000. Quirke says that this combination of new features and refined form-factor is a direct response to an extensive survey of first responders.

Motorola, one of the leading manufacturers of public safety radios, has for years employed end-user feedback in its product development. But Quirke tells PoliceOne that during an extensive survey of public safety agencies, the company heard loud and clear (pun intended) that their mandate was to make radios that are smaller, louder, and easier to use.

The design team at Motorola also has taken into account the high-stress environment in which public safety workers perform – what Motorola identifies on its website as a non-equilibrium state. “The non-equilibrium state in the public safety arena can perhaps best be summed up in the words written by stress researchers Eduardo Salas and James Driskell more than a decade ago,” the company’s website says. “Emergency or crisis conditions occur suddenly and often unexpectedly, operators must make critical decisions under extreme stress, and the consequences of poor performance are immediate and catastrophic.”

“Under stressful conditions, you can lose certain cognitive abilities – one of those cognitive abilities which diminish rapidly is the ability to read,” Quirke tells PoliceOne.

Motorola applied some serious science to the design of APX in order to increase ease-of-use for public safety workers. In particular, the designers used intelligence gathered by behavioral psychologists who employ a discipline called the "High Velocity Human Factors (HVHF)" concept, which Motorola says “takes the concept of Human Factors Sciences to a new level.”

For example, screens on these new units can indicate with simple color codes the status of an individual’s connectivity (or lack thereof) to the network, as well as the status of other officers on the network. When an officer is out of range, the screen goes red, and by pressing an “emergency button” on either unit, an officer in trouble instantly alerts everyone on the system that they’ve got a problem – a nice feature when you want to say you need help without uttering a word.

These new Motorola radios are equally suited left-handed and right-handed user because there are push-to-talk buttons on both sides of the unit. Furthermore, on one face of the unit is a data-centric interface and on the other is the voice interface. Interestingly, both faces are equipped with microphones and speakers.

Motorola said in a marketing document distributed in Kansas City this week that “With the APX 7500 [and 7000], organizations can purchase one radio for instant multi-band communication – and streamline the expense of maintaining, installing, and operating multiple mobile radios.” The company was quick to point out that not only are these units “forward migrate-able” but also smart enough to be compatible with dozens of existing analog systems already out there.

The general availability for these new units won’t be here until Q2 2009 but some departments will begin a beta testing program with them in the autumn.

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