Back in 2008, the California Highway Patrol sent out a request for companies to come and pitch their latest in-car computer systems. That request attracted an unusual player, defense contractor Rockwell Collins. The company, better known for making aerospace and ground combat systems, was in the process of adapting its M7000 combat vehicle computer for public safety.
The Rockwell Collins system was unlike anything that the CHP evaluators had ever seen. And they really didn't know how to react.
"They had not envisioned a solution like what we offered them because nothing like it existed in this market at the time," says Preston Johnson, Rockwell Collins' manager of strategy and marketing for public safety business. "Based on what we showed them, they realized a much more integrated vehicle electronics system was possible. Out of that came what we now call the iForce Integrated Public Safety Vehicle Solution."
The iForce is more than an in-car computer. It's essentially a computer-based communication system. It helps officers communicate with each other, communicate with any applicable databases, and even communicate with their vehicles.
One major feature that attracted the CHP to the iForce system is its ability to help officers from different agencies communicate more easily. "We can crossband between any of the radios installed in the car," Johnson says.
"Imagine that you are a CHP officer and you roll up on a wreck in Anaheim. Because this is the area where you work, you have a radio from the Anaheim PD installed in your car. So an officer from Anaheim rolls up. And another CHP officer rolls up from somewhere else in a car that doesn't have an Anaheim radio. On your screen you can pick the Anaheim radio and the CHP radio, press one button, and now those two can talk to each other," Johnson explains. Repeaters can be added into the iForce system so that officers can even use its communications capabilities outside of their cars via handheld radios.
The iForce also performs all of the functions of a standard in-car computer such as supplying officers in the field with critical information. Johnson says he is currently working with a Texas agency that uses 12 different databases and
iForce has the potential to automate access to all of them.
Finally, iForce replaces many of the control units commonly found in patrol cars. Officers can give commands to control their lights, sirens, and other equipment either by voice, touch screen, or with a hand control device. The result is a less crowded workspace for the average officer.
"The iForce system removes all of the control interfaces you normally see in the front of the car," Johnson says. "The actual radios get moved into the trunk. That frees up space in the front of the vehicle."
Unlike most public safety in-vehicle computer systems, the iForce is not run solely by Windows software. The system controls all of the mission critical functions such as lights, sirens, and radios on a military grade Linux-based computer. The computer operates on proprietary software written by Rockwell Collins.
"We don't design things and base them around a Windows OS so that when you get the 'blue screen of death' everything fails," Johnson says. "We are used to designing systems where failure is not an option."
Although Windows is not the primary operating system for the iForce, it features a Windows module that allows agencies to run Windows-based CAD and report writing programs. "You haven't lost anything by replacing your laptop with the iForce system," says Johnson, who serves as a reserve officer with an Iowa Police Department. "It's just that the iForce computer is inherently much more capable and rugged than a laptop."
Rockwell-Collins' iForce system is currently on duty with the CHP and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.