For much of the last century, emergency vehicle lights consisted of a flashing single-color light on the roof of the vehicle, the "cherry top" immortalized in Bruce Springsteen's 1975 rock 'n' roll epic "Jungleland." But in the last three decades, the "cherry top" has become the sophisticated lightbar that flashes in multiple sequences of blue, red, and white.
Today, law enforcement lightbars are becoming even more high-tech with the adoption of light emitting diodes (LEDs) and computer controls. Many lightbars also now feature modular design that allows an agency to replace and repair modules rather than the entire system.
The following is a quick look at some of the most innovative emergency vehicle lighting systems now on the market.
If you want to see red (or blue) for awhile, look right at a vehicle fitted with one of Code 3's new Defender lightbars with TriCore technology and have somebody throw the switch. The Defender is one of the brightest, if not the brightest, emergency vehicle lightbar systems on the market.
Code 3 reps won't say what makes the multipatented TriCore twice as bright as the company's LED, halogen, or strobe light-equipped lightbars. All the company will reveal is that TriCore is truly a departure from conventional lightbar technology. "Everything about the light head is different," says Code 3 vice president of sales Kelly Kyriakos. "It is our own new technology."
The TriCore system was developed to make the light more visible at angles and make officers safer when they enter intersections. Other benefits of the TriCore system include: brighter alley and takedown lighting, lower energy consumption, and longer life because the system runs cooler. The TriCore system is also easier to maintain and repair than Code 3's conventional lightbars.
Code 3 says that considering its greater durability and ease of maintenance, the Defender lightbar with TriCore technology is competitively priced with other Code 3 lightbars. Existing Code 3 lightbars cannot be retrofitted with TriCore.
The latest innovation from Federal Signal is the SmartSiren Platinum control system. The SmartSiren Platinum is an update of the company's SmartSiren system. Like its predecessor, the SmartSiren Platinum controls lightbars and sirens. The new SmartSiren Platinum system also has 14 solid-state relays for controlling a wide variety of equipment.
But the real innovation in the SmartSiren Platinum is Federal Signal's new Convergence Network. The control head of the SmartSiren Platinum is actually a microprocessor, and the Convergence Network is a combination of software and hardware that facilitates plug-and-play installation of lightbars, sirens, and other equipment.
"Think of the Convergence Network like a computer," says Paul Gergets, Federal Signal's director of engineering for mobile systems. "You can go out and order a Dell computer today, pick out a processor, a monitor, a printer, a scanner, and they all work together. The Convergence Network gives you that kind of plug- and-play capability."
In addition to its plug-and-play capability, the SmartSiren Platinum features onboard diagnostics capability. The diagnostics makes it easier for installers to troubleshoot problems that occur in the field. "The diagnostics feedback shows if you are transmitting and receiving information; it shows what device you are sending the information to, and it's fused on the outside so you can look and see what the problem is," Gergets says.
The SmartSiren Platinum is fully programmable. Users can hook it up to a computer via an ethernet connection for programming. A programmed control head can also be hooked up to other heads for cloning.
The SmartSiren Platinum works with four of Federal Signal's latest lightbars, and all future Federal Signal products will be designed to work with the system. It is priced comparably to the first generation SmartSiren, and Gergets says it will save users both money and time. "It takes less time to install. Once installed, it's easier to diagnose a failure so that takes less time and your service costs go down," he explains.
The plug-and-play capability of the SmartSiren Platinum is also a cost-saver that will help agencies keep their patrol cars on the street, according to Gergets. "I know agencies that sometimes take days to replace a lightbar," he says. "With the plug-and-play capability of the SmartSiren Platinum, they can do it in hours."
About four years ago SoundOff Signal launched its ETL5000 LED lightbar. It was a very solid product, but it wasn't exactly priced to move. "It was a little bit on the high end," admits Bob Van Ee, the company's national sales manager.
So with its new Pinnacle line of exterior and interior lightbars, SoundOff Signal had two goals: produce a high-quality product and sell it at a competitive price. "The Pinnacle has a lot of the same features of the ETL5000 as far as light output, generation three LEDs, ease of installation, and a five-year warranty at a much more economical price," Van Ee says.
The Pinnacle also boasts some innovative features that were not available in the ETL5000. "You can now split the arrow function," Van Ee says. "You can have amber and red and blue lights on the back of the bar." Van Ee says the combination gives users much more visibility when stopped or when using right-left arrows to direct traffic. He adds that the feature is proving to be very popular with SoundOff Signal's customers.
Another innovation in the Pinnacle series lightbars is what SoundOff Signal calls Fusion Technology. The ETL5000 used total internal reflector optics (TIR). The Pinnacle lightbars are all LED systems that use both linear and TIR optics. Van Ee says Fusion Technology makes it easier for motorists to see the emergency vehicle at an angle. "Fusion Technology spreads the light better and makes it more visible at off angles. It gives you better diffusion of light," he says.
The interior Pinnacle lightbar was designed to make it easier for officers to see out of cars that use it. "The biggest complaint about interior lightbars is that they hang down," Van Ee says. "So the driver has to crane her or his neck up underneath the bar to see traffic lights. We made the Pinnacle interior lightbar much thinner and not as deep and that makes it easier for the user to see traffic signals."
Whelen Engineering's WeCan electronic control module (ECM) communicates all lightbar functions via a two-conductor 20-gauge cable. In addition, the WeCan ECM has a USB input that allows the user to connect a PC or laptop and program the lightbar.
Combining a Whelen Liberty lightbar and the WeCan ECM produces an extremely versatile emergency vehicle lighting system. The Liberty is a low-profile lightbar with extended corner modules for expanded visibility at critical 90-degree angles. Users can build their Liberty lightbars in a variety of configurations. Options include brake/tail/turn lights and traffic advisors. The WeCan ECM enables the Liberty's Duo Technology, which allows users to combine warning and traffic advisory capability in a single lighthead.
Whelen sales rep Craig Symanski says the Duo Technology is also very energy efficient. It's also cost-efficient over the lifetime of the lightbar. "The LEDs allow you to reduce the down time of the vehicle and the cost associated with replacing modules," he says.