"If the officer says 'LE north command,' which is the law enforcement north command channel, it will go over five rows and down three columns or whatever and you can hear the radio beeping as it does it," she said.

Simon Says

Officers utter commands in a regular voice.

The microphone that receives the commands is mounted on the dashboard. "You just kind of talk in front of you," Callander said. "I can't say that it's 100 percent accurate. There are times when it won't recognize you. But in terms of causing problems, I haven't heard of any. It doesn't matter if you have an accent or if the siren is on, it has a very high accuracy rate."

The commands are not prerecorded, but instead generated through a speech-text and text-speech engine provided free by Microsoft, according to Lenharth. The commands are in text files and can be modified easily using configuration software provided by UNH.

"One of our commands is 'strobes,' for lights," Liebl said. "Your department may want to use 'blue lights' instead of strobes. All you have to do is change the vocabulary in the software from 'strobes' to 'blue lights,'" he said. "It sounds somewhat simplistic, but that's essentially what happens."

So who can do this?

"Anyone with software programming experience and no -- you don't have to bring it back to UNH," Liebl said. The software was designed with an open architecture, he said. Once it's programmed, it will understand commands regardless of whose voice it is. "If you sat in my cruiser and you knew how the system operated as well as what were considered valid commands, it would act upon your very first command without hesitation."

Callander said the accuracy would decrease if a larger vocabulary were attempted because the more code words introduced, the greater the chance for confusion.

"You bring up the Project 54 screen, and there are about 20 commands on each of the three screens per screen. For example, on our smart siren screen an example of a command would be 'code three, on,' and that will turn the lights and sirens on. To turn them off, you would say, 'Code three, off.'"

The smart siren screen is one of three screens, including the radio control screen and the patrol screen, which has a myriad of functions, including radar functions and screens for accessing the department's criminal records.

If the system doesn't recognize a command, it says "unrecognizable." In the early stages of implementation, the command "right alley," which is a command that turns certain lights on, sounded to the system like "radar," and it would respond by saying "radar." At that point, the officer would have to turn on the lights manually.

"But what you can do in Project 54 is change it from 'right alley' to 'alley right,'" Callander said. "Problem solved."

Retaining Redundancy

The system has a safety net in that none of the original buttons were taken out. Callander said the Carlsbad Police Department looked at other voice-command systems, but they required that all of the patrol cars' original systems be removed. Project 54 is completely redundant.

"We looked at some systems and found their big negative was that they took out all the other [original] systems," Callander said. "We have all the buttons in there, so if they say 'right alley' and the darn thing kept saying 'radar,' they can just reach down and push the button that says 'right alley.'"

Both the Carlsbad Police Department and New Hampshire State Police spent about $1,000 per vehicle to implement the system, but already had mobile data terminals in the cars.

"Anybody that currently has a mobile data terminal in

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor