Driven without destruction

Police in the US are testing the first command-and-control system specifically designed for use in patrol cars. The Tacnet system, developed by automotive technology giant Visteon, turns the interior of a standard police vehicle into something more like the cockpit of a fighter plane.

The Maryland state force has begun testing the first car to be fitted with a prototype of Tacnet, which is designed to help police drivers react more quickly and safely during high-speed chases.

The centrepiece of Tacnet is a head-up display mounted on the windscreen, enabling drivers to view information without taking their eyes off the road.

The system also features voice-control technology originally designed by Visteon for top-of-the-range Jaguar models, allowing officers to fire off spoken commands to Tacnet’s various functions.

They can use the system to request photographs of suspects, vehicle licence information or criminal background checks directly from the US National Crime Information Centre. The data is sent via a high-speed mobile internet data link to the car’s onboard computer for display on the screen.

The voice-control system allows drivers to turn their flashing lights and sirens on and off, activate the car’s video camera and operate the radio via spoken commands. Tacnet’s processor also enables radio communications across all emergency services, regardless of which network they are using.

The safety of police drivers, other road users and pedestrians during high-speed chases is a major issue in both the US and the UK, where dozens of people are killed each year during pursuits.

Visteon adapted several technologies originally designed for luxury consumer models to create Tacnet, working in conjunction with specialist electronics systems providers.Two other US police forces, Boston and Michigan, are involved in the project and are expected to carry out their own trials. Feedback from the live tests will be passed back to the Visteon team to be used in further development.

Visteon spokeswoman Robin Pannecouk said that the company hopes to have a production version of Tacnet ready for use in 2004, although the exact timetable depends on how much modification work needs to be done following the results of the Maryland pilot.

It was too early to say whether Tacnet would eventually be used by police forces outside the US, including those in the UK.

‘This is the first time these emergency communications tools have been integrated to this extent, and we are still in the development phase,’ said Pannecouk.

‘Our initial work is with agencies in the US, but we will obviously be looking at future opportunities once it is established.’

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