University of Houston Gets $1 Million for 'Smart' Police Cars

Grants to provide next-generation patrol cars for protection of campus, development of new technology

by / November 8, 2004

The University of Houston recently received a $1 million from the National Institute of Justice to provide campus law enforcement with the latest in patrol car technology. In addition to providing new patrol cars, the grant will support research into future improvements to the cars.

Highlighting the growing partnership between academia, industry and the law enforcement community in fighting crime across the country, UH researchers are developing advanced technologies to equip these vehicles -- known as "smart" cars -- with the latest law enforcement technologies to further enhance officers' crime-fighting capabilities. The state-of-the-art police car and SUV coming to campus will serve as test beds for mobile command centers.

Researchers in the UH Cullen College of Engineering are already developing such features as a rugged mass memory storage device derived from high-temperature superconductivity research pioneered at UH and integrated multifunctional antennas with multiple frequency bands on a vibration isolation platform for border patrol applications. This vibration isolation system will help protect sensitive electronic equipment inside the car during severe, off-road driving conditions.

"The research performed right here at the University of Houston will better protect our police and allow them to be even safer and more effective," said Congressman Tom DeLay (R-TX), who helped secure the grant. "These dollars were awarded because the University of Houston has proven their research ability, and when the project is complete, UH will have provided the rest of the nation with a new concept of what a police car should be."

The University of Houston Police Department has been selected to receive two of these vehicles this winter, making the UHPD the mobile test bed for this law enforcement technology. In addition to strengthening campus officers' current crime-fighting technology, these vehicles will provide an evolving platform that is upgradeable as research and implementation indicate. As the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, the NIJ also is enabling new technology developed by UH engineers in collaboration with industry partners to be retrofitted into these vehicles for field tests and be transferred to law enforcement equipment and vehicle manufacturers.

UHPD Chief of Police Bob Wilson is excited about the possibilities. A medium-sized, full-service police agency and component of the university, the UHPD is in the unique position of being a "real world" entity located in a neutral environment with high-level research capabilities.

"We are extremely pleased to be afforded this opportunity to participate in the advancement of technology as it relates to the law enforcement profession," Wilson said. "We welcome a greater role in the education process at UH through these collaborative efforts with the Cullen College of Engineering, the National Institute of Justice, and law enforcement equipment and vehicle manufacturers."

"This funding is only the beginning," said Steven Pei, associate dean for research in the Cullen College of Engineering and the lead researcher on the project. "We are looking forward to a long-term partnership with the automotive industry, electronic equipment manufacturers and the law enforcement community to develop the next generation mobile command capability."

Police departments typically add many special devices to the standard police cars they acquire from manufacturers. Each piece of equipment, from sirens to radios to computers, requires its own controls and monitoring devices that tend to overcrowd the driver cockpit. In addition, these systems often are not designed or installed to focus on usability for the driver and operating ergonomics within the vehicle. Developing ways to integrate systems so that they work well with each other seamlessly and the rest of the environment will be a key focus of the research. For example, the SUV will be equipped with state-of-the-art radio-over-IP technology to address the communications interoperability problem that exists between different radio systems used by various law enforcement and emergency response units in a metropolitan area such as greater Houston, Pei said.

Besides the two vehicles, the remaining funds will be devoted to the university's research and development efforts. The vehicles are expected to arrive on campus in early January 2005.

"This kicks off an important partnership between UH engineers and automotive engineers actively developing advanced systems integration for the automotive industry," said Raymond Flumerfelt, dean of the Cullen College of Engineering. "Our college is especially happy with this partnership in light of 9/11 and our current homeland security needs."