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Kia partners with Fujitsu for AI-equipped police cars

Artificial intelligence software developing in Australia for global applications

21 Aug 2019

KIA MOTORS Australia (KMAu) has revealed that it has been working with Japanese multinational information, technology, equipment and services company, Fujitsu, for nearly a year to help develop and implement artificial intelligence (AI) enabled digital software designed to integrate within emergency vehicles globally.


Still a work in progress using a largely-stock Kia Stinger police car and as-yet untested in the field, the technology is expected to be commercially ready and available from the middle of next year.


Compatible with all Kias using the current multimedia system, the overall cost is said to be lower than the estimated $60,000 to $80,000 per vehicle currently required to make a fully-decked out law-enforcement vehicle in Australia.


With the partnership aiming to streamline the many disparate and dated technologies associated with the modification of production vehicles to emergency vehicles, KMAu hopes to broaden its presence in providing police and emergency vehicles here as well as internationally.


As previously reported, KMAu’s police-vehicle contract currently extends to Stingers and Sorento SUVs in Queensland, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania.


However, it is believed that US homeland agencies and some New Zealand police departments may also be investigating Kias as law-enforcement vehicles in the near future, and so are said to be watching Australia’s progress with the cars very closely.


Also involving a number of local and global suppliers, Fujitsu Australia admits the software-based integration platform is designed to work with all types of vehicles and not just Kias, but it would not have been possible without the latter’s assistance in providing a prototype vehicle to test the tech.


Providing significantly higher functionality and ease compared to what is offered in today’s emergency vehicles, the project centres around introducing safer working environments, improved safety, better ergonomics, faster and more intuitive device responses, reduced costs on a number of fronts and stronger vehicle residual values due to the dramatically decreased amount of heavy bolted-on hardware associated with the largely dated current technologies.


It can also be applied to vehicles in the security, taxi, renting and other industries.


According to Fujitsu Australia principal architect of the IoT and Mobility Specialist department, Ian Hamer, the new technologies as demonstrated in the Stinger police car prototype can change the way such vehicles are created and used, since it establishes an ecosystem in which to integrate the latest advances while nurturing and implementing future developments and improvements.


“To build each highway patrol police car requires multiple tenders from numerous individual suppliers for each piece of equipment, from the car itself to Mobile Data Terminal, number plate recognition technology, In-Car-Video and radar,” he said.


“Fujitsu’s enhanced vehicle ecosystem integrates individual components, simplifying the installation and removal of vehicle equipment and bringing greater agility and efficiency to the police force.”


Mr Hamer said that while the Kia partnership only commenced in September 2018, the ideas have been in germination for about a decade.


Prior to Kia, his team approached “all manufacturers”, including Holden and Ford in Australia, but could not persuade them to invest in the project.


“But the answer was ‘that’s not what we do, we are a car industry’,” he said.


The existing model for police car modifications involves suppliers that are, in Mr Hamer’s words, “currently niche and secular” – meaning they do not integrate with each other. In some cases, there can be up to 15 firms supplying equipment per vehicle, and all separately.


Additionally, he said there are currently “huge problems with safety”, including airbag incompatibility with bulky hardware items like police communication panels fitted on the dashboard that can get in the way of deployment, causing serious physical harm.


Other issues include excessive heat, less interior space and compromised ergonomics.


From a cost point of view, the potential savings are reportedly substantial. With a fully-kitted police car requiring up to six weeks of modification, Fujitsu reckons the new tech can be installed in half or even one-third of that time, saving the department on labour as well as minimising the time the vehicle is out of action.


Plus, with no heavy and bulky hardware, police cars can be up to 80kg lighter and thus more fuel efficient, while there is a reduced power load on the car’s electrical systems, further lowering consumption.


Just as importantly, having far fewer drills and holes in the bodywork and interior make the vehicles more palatable when they are auctioned off, increasing residuals.


These are especially relevant to rural departments who rack up larger mileages and so turn over their cars more frequently.


From a vehicle operator point of view, Fujitsu said the new software integrates with the vehicle’s existing driver-assist and safety systems, so under braking, for example, the roof-mounted lightbar will display bright red LEDs, boosting visibility and safety.


Other parts of this so-called ‘embedded biometrics’ include a palm-based scanner system integrated within the transmission lever, that does away with the multitude of keyboard passwords, which has been identified as frustrating and fatiguing under times of duress.


What can take several minutes of logging-in to remote servers can be slashed to 0.6 seconds with just a single press of a gear knob.


Another upshot is that the user’s pre-determined biometric data will include their preferred seating, mirror, multimedia and heater/air-con settings, further streamlining processes.


Tablet or smartphone-style touchscreen access to lightbars, sirens and cameras means fewer buttons and switchgear; using the vehicle’s CANBUS to display via the dashboard LCD screens, instrument clusters and even the head-up display where fitted, it further eliminates bolt-on screens that can be hazardous to occupants on impact.


On the AI front, Fujitsu says that one of its most important applications concern the cameras fitted around the vehicle, which can read numberplates, identify make/model/colour of vehicles of interest and are facial-recognition capable, even in crowded situations such as at rallies or sports events, so can sort out persons of interest.


Connected wirelessly to the police ‘cloud’, it can relay data to and from personnel in the field, and soon even to next-gen Google Glass-style eyewear for police to have immediate access to. The idea here is to inform personnel of any impending danger, providing greater security.


“Fujitsu’s idea of emergency vehicle technology is a turn-key solution… that’s all about trying to make it as ‘plug-in and play as possible’,” according to Mr Hamer.


“There are reductions in install costs, de-install costs, while providing greater officer safety, reduced power draw on the vehicle and much greater security to police and data.”

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