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A joint venture between Kia Motors Australia and Japanese technology company Fujitsu’s Australian team has produced a Stinger police car prototype with artificial intelligence, integrated computer systems and next-generation technology that is designed to be as simple to use a smartphone.
The prototype car looks for the most part just like a Kia Stinger 330S you’d see on the road, aside from a streamlined light bar on top.
But its looks are deceiving, because this Stinger is actually at the leading edge of what’s possible in the emergency vehicle space.
According to Ian Hamer, principal architect IoT and mobility specialist for Fujitsu, this is a vastly different approach to the traditional way of building a police car, and a considerably safer way of doing so, too.
“Traditional highway patrol cars are some of the most unsafe vehicles out there on the road,” said Mr Hamer, referring to the fact that critical cabin controls and systems are impeded by the array of screens and boxes usually fitted to a police car.
“They do it that way because no-one has sat with them and showed them a better way to do it,” Mr Hamer said, suggesting the car can act as the basis for the tech because of what it already has on-board. “It assists them in doing the right job.”
The project - lead by Mr Hamer - pitches a very different way of building a cop car. Currently any Australian state or territory will elect a particular make and model for a particular task, before taking up to eight weeks to fit as many as eight different systems to the cabin and exterior of the car.
The cost of this fit out varies by location and requirements, but it is a time-consuming exercise estimated to be in the region of $80,000 per vehicle. Fujitsu’s system - once- beyond the prototype phase - could take as little as two weeks to install, and cost as little as a quarter of the traditional setup.
Not only is it time consuming to build the current cars, it also wastes time for officers when they’re on shift.
According to Mr Hamer, the current setup in most highway patrol cars requires multiple logins for police officers to go through, not to mention adjusting their seats and mirrors every time they get into a car. Further, if the officer stops the car to refuel, stops for a lunch or toilet break, or has to change cars for whatever reason, they have to login all over again.
But the team behind the prototype foresees a future where that won’t be the case - instead, the driver will simply scan their palm on the gear selector and be logged in to all the relevant systems within 0.6 seconds - not to mention have their preferred seat and mirror settings adjusted in the Kia they’re driving.
The palm scanning “embedded biometrics” system uses near-infrared light technology to read the vein pattern in the user’s hand, and no two vein patterns (and therefore no two hands) are the same. According to Hamer, “it’s better than iris scanning and fingerprint scanning”. The tech hasn’t been used in cars before, but Brazilian banks have been using a similar system to reduce theft at ATMs, and it is also in use in Chinese prisons and US medical institutions.
Biometrics are also planned to be used for evidence and weapons lockers in the car.
The palm scanner gear knob is also equipped with three shortcut buttons, so the driver doesn’t need to go through the media screen if they need instant application of lights and siren or another onboard operation, and it’s programmable based on each driver’s preferences.
Another key element is the in-built media system.
Rather than run a laptop and ancillary media screens, touch pads and controllers for police to use, the main operations run through the inbuilt multimedia unit, though with a revised software system based on Android Auto. Mr Hamer said it took some convincing for Google’s upper echelon executives to allow this sort of manipulation of the software, because it’s designed not to be distracting.
The media screen is the home base for the light controls - be it alley lighting for night-sighting suspects, or pursuit lighting depending on the situation. Current light bar controllers have as many as 15 buttons to select from, where this smarter, more streamlined light bar, provided by Whelen Engineering, is all controlled through the screen and quick-buttons.
The light bar also counteracts the potential for rear-end accidents, as it will turn the rearward-facing lights all red when the car brakes, and will also go all white when reverse is selected, shining a broad beam of light to make the job easier for officers at night.
Further, the project uses the car’s in-built head-up display (HUD) to display radar information. There’s still a radar fitted, but it has the potential to display information through the HUD to tell the driver what speed an infringing road user is travelling, and even the colour and type of car.
Fujitsu claims the minimalist technology footprint of its system reduces about “60-80 kilograms of wiring”, not to mention the “four computers in the boot” of current HWP vehicles. Plus not only is it easier to install, according to Fujitsu, it’s also considerably easier to decommission, and there won’t be any holes drilled in the roof turret or the dashboard for brackets.
The system has a level of artificial intelligence (AI) built in, and because it’s integrated with the cars on-board computers, it could act to operate the lights and sirens when it senses the driver has planted their foot down hard on the throttle. It’ll even turn off the side lights when the driver or passenger undo their seatbelt, as they could otherwise be blinded temporarily if the lights are left on. None of that is possible in current cars, and it’s only possible because the light bar in linked into the car’s computers.
The AI isn’t only limited to learning the movements of the occupants - it can be used as part of the numberplate recognition system, by detecting if a plate is fitted to the correct car by assessing the make and model, not just scanning the plate as the current tech does.
AI could also be deployed in the body camera systems worn by officers. If it detects the face of a wanted felon or “person of interest”, the system has the potential to warn the officer - either audibly, by vibration, or by other means. This is still in the works.
Fujitsu claims the technology isn’t only limited to police operations - other emergency vehicles could also use the tech, not to mention security companies, couriers, taxis and even ride share companies like Uber.
If you're curious, the Kia Stinger spec represented here is the 330S, which runs a 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine with 272kW of power and 510Nm of torque. It retails at $50,190 plus on-road costs.