Every day, police officers slide behind the wheel of their cruisers and take command of an array of technology that does everything from operating sirens to accessing computer databases. It requires multi-taskingâ€”sometimes dangerously so.
Warren Harrison knows this firsthand. For the past six years, the PSU computer sciences professor has served as a reserve deputy with the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office. He knows that electronics and computers are essential tools inside the patrol car, but they're distracting when driving. And officers lose access when they step away from their vehicles.
His solution was to create a hands-free, voice interaction system that works up to 100 yards from a patrol car.
Harrison was inspired to do police work following the 9/11 terrorism attacks. â€œI just felt the need to do something to help make a safer community,â€ he says.
As a skilled software engineer, he initially offered his services to local law enforcement agencies in computer forensics. But he tired of lab work, so he changed course and became a reserve sheriff's deputy. It was during his probationary period with Clackamas County that he came up with the idea of interfacing a voice-activated system with a patrol car's technology.
A grant from the National Institute of Justice allowed Harrison to create a prototype that he and other officers are now testing. Outside their cars, the deputies can send queries for information such as license plate checks directly to their vehicles' computers rather than use a radio to call dispatch.
Harrison is adviser to Diane Jones, a computer science student who built a driving simulator to test the voice recognition software. It will help officers learn to use the system as well as measure the safety benefits of hands-free communication.