EVERETT, Wash. - Aircraft have long been used to catch speeders from the air. But they didn't come equipped with technology that allows a state trooper to nail someone's speed in just seconds with the click of a mouse. Police agencies often use airplanes for their element of surprise as many speeders often know where radar equipped police cars usually hide out.
"Smokey-3" is a single engine Cessna 206. It was recently equipped with digital high definition and infrared cameras that see day or night. It comes with map overlays that can show a trooper sitting in front of a console in the back of the plane exactly what street a car is driving on. A second trooper sits in the pilot's seat spotting violators.
Now those technologies and more are tied together with hardware and software that allows for the precise estimate of speed on any road day or night.
"You mark the vehicle, and it will start tracking from there with all these different systems," said Tony Hillock, an electronic design engineer with the Washington State Patrols Electronic Services Division in Wenatchee.
The WSP says it believes it is the first police agency to use the system called ARS, standing for Augmented Reality System. And this Labor Day weekend is the roll out, with the first ticket issued to a black Ford SUV out of British Columbia driving 80 in a 60 mph zone on I-5 southbound in Lynnwood about 12:30 p.m. Friday.
The old system to estimate speed was proven and surprisingly simple. An airborne trooper would simply use a stop watch to time a car as it drove between two hash marks on the side of a freeway a half mile apart. But those hash marks aren't everywhere, don't work at night, and usually aren't used on other highways, much less city streets. Now ARS can be used anywhere day or night. It is so precise, it can factor in the effects of hills said Hillock.
"We're hoping to stop dangerous speeds, and the aggressive drivers," said Trooper Chris Noll. "The next three weeks we'll be up at night Fridays and Saturdays, and our goal is to get those dangerous speeds and aggressive drivers stopped."
The system was developed by Churchill Navigation. WSP says it worked to test the system over three years to prove its reliability for prosecutors, as like all technologies, it will certainly be challenged by defense attorneys in court. Testing involved cross checking the speed of the ARS against radar guns and stop watch timing.
One test flight in recent weeks, WSP says motorcycle was clocked at 133 miles per hour on I-5 in south King County.
The State Patrol says it hopes to take advantage of the system's ability to track multiple vehicles simultaneously.