DIRECTIONAL TARGETING 2003
NEW RADAR AND LASER GUN TARGETING TECHNOLOGIES COMPARED
By Carl Fors, Speed Measurement Laboratories, Inc.
Radar and laser guns are constantly improving targeting accuracy. The last two years have seen eye-popping technological innovations and introductions. Today, digital signal processing is vastly superior to when Judge Nesbitt’s analog radar gun clocked a palm tree at 86 mph and a house at 28 mph in the landmark Aquilera decision (State v. Aquilera, 48 FL, 1979). This landmark decision put radar enforcement on hold in Florida, throwing out 600 contested cases. Radar gun targeting and accuracy had to improve.
A Short History
In the 1960s, radar for traffic speed enforcement became popular after its development in World War II. The first radar guns had vacuum tubes, were huge, and were only capable of stationary operation. Kustom Signals, Inc.’s MR-7 in 1971 was the first stationary and moving radar and became widely popular with state police agencies. Handheld units entered the market. The Arab oil embargo of the 1970s and the national 55 mph speed limit led to the invention of radar detectors in 1972. Some 26,000,000 are now used. The radar gun industry recognized the wildly popular radar detector and introduced an antiradar detector feature, the “instant on” radar trigger. The officer would wait for the target vehicle to come into range and then trigger the radar gun, defeating radar detectors. X-band gave way to K-band. Presently, most new introductions are touting Ka-band’s digital superiority. Applied Concepts Inc. (ACI), a.k.a. Stalker Radar, offered the first digital, handheld radar gun in the early 1990s, greatly reducing targeting errors and environmental interference. ACI followed with the first, all digital two-piece moving radar – Star Wars of the highways continued. Laser Technologies Inc. (LTI) brought their pencil thin, infrared 20/20 Marksman to market in the early 1990s. The laser gun’s beam is a mere 18 inches wide at 500 feet compared to an X-band radar beam of 157 feet and was totally invisible to radar detectors. Correct targeting with laser is vastly superior to radar as it identifies one vehicle in a group – the ultimate in directional targeting. What you see is what you get! Detector makers countered adding laser detection sections to their detectors; however, these laser detection efforts proved useless unless the gun is aimed directly at the laser detector. Recognizing this, laser jammer introductions are booming with laser jammers offered by Escort, Beltronics, K-40, Laser Echo, Laser Blinder and may soon be seen in Radio Shack. Now, Laser Atlanta Inc. touts a jamproof laser gun – SpeedLaser.
The introduction of the laser prompted radar gun makers to improve their targeting ability. New radar guns offer features such as all digital circuitry, directional radar, fastest vehicle, opposite lane fast, automatic opposite lane fast (yet to receive IACP approval), same lane fast, VSS (Vehicle Speed Sensor – introduced by Kustom Signals, Inc.) interface, adjustable reporting range (sensitivity), voice reporting – and MPH Industries’ ultimate radar detector beater, their superfast POP mode. This dizzying rate of technology makes it next to impossible for a typical traffic sergeant to keep up. It is like buying a new computer program with “Easy to Learn” proudly displayed on the box only to find the instruction manual is 300 pages…so little time, so many choices! Speed Measurement Laboratories, Inc. (SML) wanted to test and to compare these new developments for their practicality, understandability, and ease of use in January 2003 in El Paso, TX. It wanted to report its findings so all could understand. All major radar and laser gun makers were invited to attend. All provided equipment and representatives while one declined to be compared.
It’s easy to understand digital superiority if you have switched from a dial-up Internet connection to DSL. Now you have fast, reliable service with little interference, etc. Digital radar guns sample a target vehicle speed every twelve inches. Older analog guns sample the same vehicle every ten to fifteen car lengths. Digital processing eliminates environmental problems such as radio frequency interference (RFI). Older guns will blank the gun’s speed readings when a police radio is keyed. This is virtually eliminated with digital. The longtime nemesis of shadowing error is virtually gone as the digital antenna’s low Doppler remembers and VSS interface of Stalker, MPH, and Kustom eliminate shadowing. Combining these and other benefits, digital produces drastic increases in target acquisition time and more accurately identifies the correct target. Other innovations with digital have been introduced. New directional radar significantly improves target vehicle identification. Older stationary radar showed speeds of vehicles going away from the radar and those approaching the gun simultaneously. Stationary directional radar performs directional magic by differentiating between compressed and stretched Doppler shifts. A vehicle going away from the radar will produce a stretched Doppler shift while a vehicle approaching the radar will give a compressed Doppler shift. Digital directional radar sees the difference and can be placed in a closing only mode or receding only mode. It only shows vehicles approaching or vehicles going away (greatly improving directional targeting accuracy). Older stationary radar could not perform this feat. In the moving mode, the digital radar no longer has to be told if it is travelling faster or slower than a targeted vehicle in the same lane. It does it automatically. Digital radar now offers automatic “fast” modes. Older moving radar could not pick out the fastest vehicle in a group of approaching vehicles. It always showed the most reflective target. If a 90 mph Corvette were in a group of 55 mph 18-wheelers, the older guns would always show the 18-wheeler speed. Now, with opposite lane fast, the middle window shows the Corvette at 90 mph and the 55 mph 18-wheeler’s is shown in the target window. Digital technology also allows MPH Industries to offer their Ka Bee III POP mode transmitting such a fast signal that radar detectors can’t see it. The digital radar revolution produces faster targeting, a reduction in previous errors, and insures better evidence of speed violations.
More metropolitan departments are using laser. Honolulu does not own a radar gun, only LTI laser guns. In the dense traffic of a four lane urban interstate, radar is of little use. It can’t single out an individual target. Laser can! Older laser guns had to be operated outside the police unit or with the driver’s window down. It couldn’t shoot through glass (a ten degree Minnesota morning saw very little laser use). Laser was also questioned when introduced. Judge Reginald Stanton, New Jersey Superior Court (March 1998), issued a final admissibility ruling of the LTI 20/20 Marksman, i.e., judicial notice, when he confirmed laser could be used for speed enforcement under several conditions. The decision limited the targeting range to 1,000 feet, avoiding the possibility of adjacent vehicle sweep targeting error and said laser could not be used in the rain or snow. Laser gun makers went to work to improve their product. Now, all current laser guns, i.e., Kustom Signals’ Pro Laser III, Laser Atlanta’s SpeedLaser, LTI’s UltraLyte B, and Stalker’s LZ-1 offer weather/inclement modes to address the court restrictions of snow and rain, improving product versatility. In the weather/inclement mode, the laser’s computer is told to disregard any reading for approximately 200 feet and it can be operated from inside the unit, through the windshield while the Minnesota Marshall remains warm and toasty.
2003 Testing and Results
As with all SML evaluations, only certified, active duty police officers are allowed to operate radar and laser guns. This eliminates any hint of bias. Radar and laser gun representatives were in attendance to insure their products were presented properly. SML personnel and uniformed officers ride together when reporting results. Activities were observed by officers from headquarters of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), local police agencies, and the media.
First, we compared ranges of laser guns in the normal setting to the ranges in the weather/inclement modes. Did the weather mode when shot through the windshield reduce the targeting efficiency of the laser guns? Cones were placed at 1/8 mile (660 feet), 1000 feet, 1/4 mile (1320 feet), and 3/8 mile (1980 feet). The target vehicle was driven toward the laser guns at 30 mph, counting down as it arrived at each cone. The laser gun was fired and performance noted. The test vehicle was then driven away from the laser gun and fired at the rear license plate at each cone. The distance cone settings were for the mode comparison and not for recommended maximum useful enforcement targeting range of 1,000 feet. Each laser gun was given two tries at each distance.
1/8 mile 1000 feet 1/4 mile 3/8 mile
Kustom Pro J J J J
Laser Atlanta Y Y Y Y
LTI UltraLyteB J J/Y J J
Stalker LZ-1 J (E-4) J (E-4) J (E-4) J/Y (E-4)
Y= laser gun reported speed/distance. J=laser gun jammed with no speed/distance reading,
E-4=laser gun showed officer jamming code
All laser guns gave 100% correct speed and distance measurements of the target vehicle from front and rear in their normal settings at all cone distances. When placed in the weather/inclement mode and fired at the recommended 1,000 foot targeting distance and 1/8th mile, Laser Atlanta reported correctly 100% of the time; Kustom Signals’ Pro Laser III, 100%; LTI’s UltraLyte B, 75%; and Stalker’s LZ-1, 75%. Rear distance reporting was superior to front license plate targeting. The vehicle’s rear presents a flat reflective surface and taillights contain reflectors. No laser gun reported speed/distance when aimed at the front plate at 1/4 and 3/8 mile when placed in weather/inclement mode. The weather/inclement modes was only tested through the windshield and not outside the vehicle in rain or snow. Windshield attenuation and filter settings of the laser guns could attribute to this observation. Next, laser guns were subjected to laser jammers. Only Utah, Minnesota, and California have laws prohibiting the sale and use of laser jammers. Laser is not controlled by the Federal Communications Commission, but by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for eye safety. The acknowledged leader in laser jamming is Laser Blinder from Denmark. Denmark, as well as all of Scandinavia, has high use of laser with accompanying heavy fines for speeding. Sweden has 400 laser guns and a population of only six million. The Blinder was installed on a white, mid-sized Mercury test vehicle slightly under the front license plate in the front cowling with the front license plate attached. Blinder has an in cabin speaker warning the driver of laser’s presence. When encountering laser, Blinder’s infrared transmitters immediately emit a modulated pulse width of 20 to 40 microseconds with pulse delay synchronized to laser gun pulse rates. Vehicle color plays a critical role in laser targeting. A black Corvette with pop down headlights and no front license plate is the most difficult for laser targeting as black absorbs all colors and there is no front plate for reflection. A white vehicle is the easiest because white reflects all colors. The Blinder equipped test vehicle was driven toward the laser guns at 30 mph, counting down at cones placed at 660 feet, 1000 feet, 1320 feet, and 1980 feet. Although all laser guns are capable of continual target tracking, they were not panned, but fired, from three to five seconds at each cone as is standard procedure in laser enforcement. Each laser gun was given two tries at each cone against the Blinder. SML engineering staff videotaped the infrared emission of the jammer. Laser Atlanta’s SpeedLaser was placed in its stealth mode. This mode has not been approved by the IACP and is under development. Laser Atlanta claims this mode makes the laser gun jamproof to laser jammers. This claim is another indication, like MPH’s POP mode, of radar and laser gun makers using radar detectors and jammers to enhance the performance and sale of their products. Some 120,000 laser jammers have been sold in North America and all laser jammers are capable of front and rear installation.
See Image #1 at right
F=front range, R=rear range, Y=laser gun reported speed/distance, N=no speed/distance reading
When placed in the stealth mode, Laser Atlanta’s SpeedLaser was not jammed. Further, Blinder did not alarm the test vehicle driver of SpeedLaser’s use (Blinder’s transmitters did not function when hit by the SpeedLaser). SML engineering staff confirmed the observation as infrared video did not show emissions from Blinder’s transmitters. Stalker’s LZ-1 did properly report to the operator a jamming code of E-4 and once, at 1980 feet, reported a speed/distance reading. LTI’s UltraLyte B did gain a speed/distance reading at 1,000 feet on one run. Plan for laser gun makers to address the jamming issue with new features. If officers suspect a laser jammer is being used, they should wait for the suspect vehicle to pass and target the vehicle from the rear at approximately 500 feet, aiming at the taillights. At 500 feet, the three milliradian laser beam is only 18″ wide and when aimed at the taillight, the beam will be outside the laser jammer’s effective angle of view. From the front, wait until the target vehicle is closer than 500 feet and aim at a headlight.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (www.theiacp.org) lists 38 approved radar guns on its July 2002 Consumer Products List (CPL). As the theme of our research was limited to directional radar, i.e., Directional Targeting, we did not look at all 38 radar guns. We selected those moving, two-piece units which claim directional abilities: Kustom Signals’ Directional Golden Eagle, MPH’s Bee III, and Stalker’s DSR. We compared the maximum targeting range of the directional two-piece radars to their handheld counterparts of Kustom Signals’ Talon, MPH’s Z-25, and Stalker’s ATR. We wanted to see if the directional radar had the same range as their nondirectional handheld counterparts. We looked at this similar question with the weather/inclement mode feature of laser. A cone was placed two miles from the radar gun’s location. The test vehicle driver zeroed the odometer at the cone and drove toward the radar guns at 30 mph. When the radar gun produced a reliable target speed, the test vehicle stopped and reported the odometer reading to determine maximum targeting distance. Each gun was given three tries. All two-piece units were placed in the directional mode of approach only. When directional guns were tested, traffic going away (receding) from the radar gun was present. A note of caution on interpretation of this maximum range test. Radar guns can not be used for visual tracking history and issuing citations at one mile. The normal target distance to begin visual targeting history and issuance of citations is approximately 1/4 mile. This comparison was designed to compare the ranges of directional radar to traditional nondirectional handheld units to see if the directional feature had any impact on maximum ranging. We found weather/inclement modes, when operated through the windshield, did reduce maximum range on laser guns.
Kustom Kustom MPH Bee MPH Stalker Stalker
Golden Talon (H) III (D) Z-25 (H) DSR (D) ATR (H)
1.20 mi. 1.55 mi. 1.47 mi. 1.56 mi. 1.46 mi. 1.55 mi.
D=direction radar, H=nondirectional handheld
mi. = miles
Results indicate there is little effective difference in the maximum ranges of directional radar guns compared to their nondirectional handheld counterparts. Consequently, the feature of directional radar has little (or no) effect on targeting and displaying speeds. All radar guns displayed a target vehicle speed five times the normal targeting distance of 1/4 mile. When a commercial radio was keyed while a speed was displayed, RFI interference was noted on the Bee III.
Next, we looked at the directional radar in the moving mode. U.S. 54 is a four lane highway with moderate traffic (SML staff and officers accompanied radar gun representatives). Moving radar is directional as the operator tells the radar to monitor same or opposite lanes while the low Doppler of the front antenna produces patrol speed of the unit. Same lane moving has been a problem in the past because previous two-piece units had to be told by the remote if the vehicle ahead of them was slower or faster than the patrol unit. The new units tested do this automatically without input from the operator. Shadowing has been a big problem with moving radar. When the patrol car approaches a large metal object, like an 18-wheeler, the low Doppler often transfers from the ground to the 18-wheeler, producing an erroneous patrol speed. It adds this reading to the target vehicle speed in the opposite lane. This target speed can’t be used. Kustom Signals’ Directional Golden Eagle and Stalker’s DSR, and MPH Bee III/Enforcer now offer a VSS (vehicle speed sensor) interface option where the patrol speed is taken directly from the vehicle’s odometer/transmission, constantly comparing it to the low Doppler estimate of the antenna, eliminating erroneous shadowing. This interface also eliminates the need for the officer to tell the radar it is stationary or moving from the remote. All directional units tested show the fastest opposite lane vehicle speed in the middle window of the display. Stalker’s DSR does this automatically while MPH’s Bee III and Kustom Signals’ Directional Golden Eagle fast modes are controlled by the remote. Kustom Signals automatically reduces the radar’s sensitivity in opposite lane fast reducing the possibility of identifying a fast vehicle outside normal visual tracking history distance. Both MPH and Kustom Signals guns will remain in the fast mode until the function is changed. Stalker and Kustom Signals have added moving same lane fast, displaying the fastest vehicle in a group in the same lane. All of these features were demonstrated to the officers and SML staff and documented on video during the moving stage of the comparison. Officers operated the different functions of each of the three directional two-piece radars. Most of these features (except stationary directional capabilities) are included in other models, i.e., Kustom Signals’ Golden Eagle, MPH’s Enforcer, and Stalker’s Dual SL.
Testing POP Mode
Finally, we investigated the highly advertised POP mode of the MPH Bee III and handheld MPH Z-25. Similar to Laser Atlanta’s stealth mode which was the only laser gun not jammed by the Laser Blinder, MPH has acknowledged the existence of 26,000,000 radar detectors (approximately 10-15% of drivers use radar detectors). Research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Speed Measurement Laboratories, Inc. shows drivers with radar detectors drive five to seven miles per hour faster than those not using the device. According to U.S. DOT Traffic Facts, speeding is the second contributing factor to highway deaths and injuries. Thoroughly explained in the instruction manual, POP mode can’t be used for visual tracking history or giving traffic citations. It also can’t be locked. It is designed to be operated in areas of high radar detector use. When POP reports a target speed, the operator simply depresses the constant/instant on transmit button on the remote for tracking and a locked speed. The ideal application would be a high school parking lot or an 18-wheeler infested interstate. It is illegal in all states for 18-wheelers to use a radar detector (U.S. DOT, February 1995, Code of Federal Regulations CFR 47, parts 393, 392.71). They also can’t be used on U.S. military installations. Although illegal in trucks, some 35% of truckers still use detectors. Ideally, a patrol unit with a radar detector/detector would identify a radar detector equipped speeding 18-wheeler and then use the POP mode for a speed reading. The officer would make the traffic stop and the befuddled trucker would immediately get on the CNN of interstate, his CB, and tell truckers the futility of radar detector use. Back in the high school parking lot, the officer would politely identify students with detectors and tell them to drive toward him. He would POP them and tell them their speed. The word would travel through the school at the speed of light. Wise chiefs of police would have their picture on the front page of the local paper with the undetectable POP mode. When “instant on” radar was first introduced, similar news stories touted a radar gun that could not be detected. To test the Bee III’s Ka-band POP mode, the MPH Enforcer POP mode, and the MPH Z-25 K-band POP mode, we selected the fastest reporting radar detector, the Beltronics 980. The Bel 980 is faster than the Valentine One or the Escort 8500 as it does not scan the entire 33.4-36 GHz Ka-band. The Escort 8500 was also tested. Its accu-scan feature only looks at 33.8, 34.7 and 35.5 GHz, frequencies used by Ka-band law enforcement radar guns. Additionally, we ran the POP mode against engineering prototype radar detectors from Precision Navigation Inc. (PNI) of Santa Clara, California. We also operated non-POP model radar guns against the detectors. The test vehicle containing the radar detectors counted down at the 1,000 foot cone at 30 mph and the radar guns were triggered. The speed reading was radioed to the test vehicle. The test vehicle was then asked if the radar detector alerted the driver to radar use. The Bel 980 did not see (nor report) the POP mode of the Bee III, the MPH Enforcer, or the MPH Z-25. The test vehicle driver was greeted by silence from their detector. However, the Bel 980 did report the use of the following radar guns: Kustom Signals’ Directional Golden Eagle, Kustom Signals’ Talon, Kustom Signals’ Falcon, Stalker’s DSR, Stalker’s ATR, and the Stalker Basic. When officers were told to quick trigger (approximately one second) their radar guns against the Escort 8500, it did not see, nor report, the use of Stalker’s ATR, Stalker Basic, Kustom Directional Golden Eagle, Kustom Talon, and Kustom Falcon. The 8500 did not see any MPH POP transmissions. No PNI sample saw the POP mode nor any quick trigger Stalker gun. Expect the detector manufacturers to work on detecting the POP mode. If successful, it will help them sell detectors; Star Wars of the highways continues.
Digesting all that has been said might take a second read. Directional targeting is superior. Directional radar eliminates half of the target identification dilemmas. It’s 50% more accurate for enforcement and for the driving public. Its directionality, along with other features like fast, VSS interface, automatic fast (Stalker), automatic same lane and same lane fast make radar gun operation easier and more productive. The POP mode of MPH products will deter radar detector use and Laser Atlanta’s stealth mode is effective in defeating laser jammers. Change for change’s sake is a questionable marketing tool. The automakers do it every year, but the engine is the same. The “engine” is not the same with new, digital, directional radar guns. It’s like changing from a manual to an automatic transmission because it insures directional targeting accuracy and better court evidence. A target speed reading is not just a target speed reading anymore with directional targeting radar.
About the Author: Carl Fors is President of Speed Measurement Laboratories, Inc. (SML) of Fort Worth, TX, and has 17 years experience in field testing radar and laser devices. SML is published nationally/ internationally and heavily engaged in developing radar- and laser-based products for public safety applications. He speaks on radar, laser, and public safety topics at local, regional, and national police meetings/conventions. He serves as a consultant for many related companies. SML has been featured on the Learning Channel, The History Channel, The Discovery Channel and others. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Web site at www.speedlabs.com for further details. Special thanks are given to the Texas Department of Public Safety (TXDPS), the New Mexico State Police, the El Paso Police Department, and the El Paso ISD Police for their participation and assistance in conducting the field comparison