Speed Readers

Change comes slowly in the speed-measuring business, but enough new products have emerged in recent years to warrant a review. So, I gathered samples of the five significant recent arrivals and spent weeks evaluating their performance, utility and user-friendliness. Here's what I found.

Radar Units

The Stalker II MDR

Some 15-odd years after entering the business, the Stalker brand of radar from Applied Concepts, Inc. has come full circle. The original Stalker ATR was a hand-held moving radar later joined by two- and three-piece moving models. The Stalker II fills the single gap in the model lineup for a small hand-held unit. But unlike the ATR, you can fit it with a rear antenna, and it offers significant features not found on its forebear or any other hand-held radar I can think of.

For instance, the Stalker II isn't just water-resistant; it's waterproof. It's also much more compact than the original Stalker, measuring barely 8" long and weighing a reasonably svelte 36 oz., with the detachable battery-handle in place. The back panel sports a large LCD with six buttons below it. When used as a hand-held radar, these operate every function except lock/release, which you control by a conventional trigger.

The Ka-band antenna looks familiar; it's borrowed from Stalker's Dual line of moving-radar models. One unique feature: The Stalker II can be configured as either a single- or dual-antenna moving radar. With the battery-handle detached, the unit slides into a rugged, nicely engineered dash mount. A power cord links it to the vehicle's electrical system, and a rear antenna plugs into a side port. In this configuration, an infrared remote control operates the radar.

The Stalker II is an automatic direction-sensing, directional radar. When dash-mounted and fitted with twin antennas, it serves as a conventional moving radar, reading opposite-lane oncoming or departing targets. Sitting stationary, it also reads bidirectional targets with either antenna.

In Same Direction mode, front and rear antennas monitor targets ahead of or behind the rolling patrol car. Operator input is unnecessary when target speed is less than patrol speed; the radar figures that out by itself. That's the luxury of automatic direction-sensing the radar keeps track of the direction of travel and closing rates of targets relative to the patrol car.

This same feature allows the radar to indicate target direction at the time a speed is locked, aiding in positive target identification. And since this is a directional radar, you can set it via the menu to read approaching-only, departing-only or bidirectional targets. When equipped with a rear antenna, you can configure each independently front bidirectional and rear approaching-only, for instance.

Audible beeps accompany mode changes and make it easier to verify the mode selected. (You can shut off the beeps, although I've no idea why any conscientious officer would do so.) The audio Doppler is distinct and nicely proportional to target speed, a hallmark of other Stalkers I've sampled over the years. It remains equally distinct in Same Direction mode.

The Stalker II's Fastest mode is either continuously on or off. With Fastest turned on, a target speed can't be locked unless it's also the strongest, a failsafe measure to assist in proper target ID. Veteran operators often tend to favor this mode, but officers with limited experience may have trouble accurately identifying which target is producing the fastest speed. To assist in this situation, you can adjust the target range from level 4 down to level 1, which I found equates to about 300 500 feet of range on a mid-size target.

You can adjust the range separately for opposite-lane and same-lane operation. In opposite-lane configuration, with the range reduced to level 2 and in the presence of very large targets, I noticed a propensity for combining. This resulted from the reduction of the range to such an extent that when coming off "RF hold" and transmitting, the targets were inordinately close, much more so than normal. Adjusted to level 3, equal to more of a real-world range setting, combining largely disappeared. At level 4, I saw none. Note: Because the unit I tested was installed in a Ford-supplied test vehicle on short-term loan, I didn't install the supplied vehicle-speed sensor (VSS) cable. Had I done so, I'm confident combining would have disappeared entirely.

When using the remote control, you can operate all primary functions by rolling the thumb and toggling between transmit/hold, antenna selection, mode and lock/release. One exception: the direction switch, which requires a deliberate reach down to its lower position.

Used as a hand-held unit, the Stalker II is fast-pointing and easily operated. Mode changes are quick, and audio is loud enough even for motor officers wearing helmets. This ease of operation, good performance and compact size, not to mention an exceptional degree of utility and extensive set of features, make the Stalker II an unusually versatile speed-enforcement tool.

The Stalker DSR 2X

At its introduction at the 2004 IACP conference, I stood next to a captain, the traffic commander of a large sheriff's department, as he examined the highly unorthodox Stalker DSR 2X. "Lemme see: two target windows, two for either lock or fastest, one for patrol speed and separate audio for each antenna," he mused. "Geez, my guys have enough problems handling half that much information. This'd be impossible." I thought so too, at least until I road-tested the DSR 2X. Now it makes perfect sense. But having been equally skeptical at first glance, I can understand the captain's doubt.

The best way to picture the 2X is to visualize combining two independently operated, automatic direction-sensing moving radars in one package. For example, say a high roller approaches in the opposite lanes of a freeway. Hit the Front Antenna/Opposite button on the cordless remote, and a 90 mph target speed appears. Establish a tracking history, then lock the speed. A stentorian, human voice from the radar supplies confirmation: "Front, moving, closing." The violator blows past, no change in speed. (What, you expected him to notice your marked unit, overheads and all?) Hit the Rear Antenna/Opposite button, and watch the same 90 mph appear in the DSR 2X's second target-speed window. Give it a few beats to verify target ID, then hit the button a second time to lock the speed. "Rear, moving, away," says the Stalker. You've just tracked and locked two identical speeds on the same car: one approaching, the other one departing. Let him try to beat that one in court, bubba.

Another example: You're watching that same 90 mph opposite-lane target, but in your mirrors you see a brain-dead twit, probably chatting on a cell phone, running equally as fast and rapidly closing in from behind. With a conventional dual-antenna moving radar, you may be able to use the same-direction mode to bag the guy in back, but you can't have both, so you must choose a target, which means one of these drivers will get a pass on criminal speed. The DSR 2X can independently track and lock each target. Hit the Rear Antenna/Same-Direction button and the rear target is toast. Press the Front Antenna/Opposite button and you've got the opposite-lane target as well.

The track-through lock allows you to monitor targets after locking-in speeds to assist in getting a solid tracking history. In stationary mode, it can monitor four target zones: approaching-only, departing-only, bidirectional targets with the front antenna and the same with the rear antenna.

The counting/display unit (the display can be detached, allowing the counting unit to be mounted remotely) features logically arranged LED speed windows of different colors. Long a Stalker trademark feature, they help the operator more quickly identify the type of speed being observed. The target window (left) is orange; locked or fastest (center) is red; and patrol (right) is green. In addition, red directional icons adjacent to the target windows denote target direction of travel.

Features of the DSR 2X are very similar to the Stalker II. A cordless remote controls all operations except power on/off. With its integral telephone-type RJ-11 jack, the remote also operates as a corded unit by linking to the counting/display unit with a length of standard telephone cable.

Using the menu, you can adjust the sensitivity for each operating mode. Other menu items include Fastest-mode on/off, independent audio volume control for mode-verification beeps and for voice confirmations, and low/high patrol speed cutoff. Despite its bottom-mounted speaker, this radar features the loudest maximum audio I've ever measured an ear-splitting 98 db(A) at 18 inches at the highest setting. You could probably hear this audio Doppler standing next to a jackhammer in operation.

You can also use the menu to engage and adjust the threshold speed of the rear traffic alert. Unique to the DSR 2X, it provides special audio and visual alerts to warn of a vehicle to the rear closing the gap very quickly, alerting officers to an impending rear-end collision, always a possibility when re-entering the roadway after a traffic stop. You can vary the threshold speed from 10 200 mph (factory default is 30 mph), and the feature operates only when the VSS cable is attached, the rear sensitivity is dialed back to the minimum and the rear antenna is transmitting. When the VSS cable is attached, the unit automatically shifts between stationary and moving modes by monitoring vehicle speed, a nice touch.

This is a very sensitive radar, and not surprisingly, it readily notices fan noise. The manual offers an array of recommendations for eliminating or at least reducing the interference, and I'd strongly suggest doing so. Without the VSS cable installed and without repositioning the front antenna for minimal fan noise, I occasionally noted Same Direction errors on distant, weak targets. Experienced operators would have no problem spotting these, but others might. My advice: Lean on the fleet-maintenance guys to install the cable. It's worth the effort on this and every other automatic direction-sensing radar.

I operated the DSR 2X in a variety of environments and quickly adapted to its unique personality. I particularly liked the ability to obtain two tracking histories on an opposite-lane target using both front and rear antennas. And the ability to independently configure the operating mode and sensitivity of each antenna allows an unprecedented degree of flexibility. However, the DSR 2X is no radar for a rookie; with this much information arriving in real-time, even an experienced officer must pay close attention. But for a motivated, radar-savvy traffic officer, the Stalker DSR 2X is the first moving radar I've seen that delivers true 180-degree coverage. If the purchasing department balks at the price, try touting its officer productivity-enhancing features. That might work.

Decatur Electronics' Genesis Hand-held Directional

Decatur Electronics has raised some eyebrows in the industry by introducing the Genesis Hand-held Directional (GHD), a fully featured model with an unusually low price. The GHD is a stationary K-band hand-held radar with Faster speed and directional operation. That product description remains unremarkable until you consider the price: $495 suggested retail.

On the back of its polycarbonate housing are an LCD and five buttons that control all operations. You can set it to read oncoming, departing or bidirectional targets. It shows Faster speeds in conjunction with strongest speeds, and you can lock them once they're also the strongest.

Decatur's "faster" nomenclature differs from the more common "fastest" by virtue of the company's philosophy on the subject. Instead of showing the speed of any target faster than the strongest, Decatur units display the speed of the second-strongest target that's moving faster than the strongest to limit the possibility the radar will reach farther down the road and mistakenly tag a vehicle traveling faster than any of the nearby, stronger targets. Many hand-held units don't have enough range to make that mistake. But I saw nearly a mile of range in flat country with the GHD, considerably more than I expected from a radar priced this low.

The red-backlit LCD offers good legibility day or night. Audio is distinct and plentiful in volume, and I also liked the light weight of the unit. Menu options control backlighting intensity, Faster on/off, target-lock mode and other essentials.

The GHD suffers from only one potential drawback in comparison to higher-priced units it has a power cord. But at this price, that may not prove too objectionable to value-conscious departments.

Laser Units

The Kustom Signals Pro-Lite & Pro-Lite Plus

The new Pro-Lite from Kustom Signals, Inc. marks the arrival of the fourth generation of speed lasers. Unlike the old auto industry longer-lower-wider hyperbole touting new models, the Pro-Lite breaks new ground by offering less of nearly everything. Less weight, less bulk, less complexity and a lower price. It looks different, too.

This is the first binocular-style domestic laser. Grasp it two-handed like a point-and-shoot camera, peer through the head-up display (HUD) on the left side of the case, center the aiming reticule on a target and press the top-mounted transmit button. A target speed appears.

Weighing a featherweight 19.8 ozs. with power supply (two common AA batteries), the Kustom Signals Pro-Lite two-model series is intended to deliver much of the performance and many of the features found in its bigger, heavier and pricier sibling, the ProLaser III. Weight reduction is accomplished by using a polycarbonate housing. The tiny batteries replace the much larger and more expensive battery-handle of the high-end laser. The payoff is bite-size packaging, making the Pro-Lite nearly small enough to fit into a very large pocket.

The shape and configuration of the collimating lenses mimic those in the ProLaser III only they're arrayed horizontally, not stacked vertically and may very well be identical under the skin. You operate the unit by four membrane buttons atop the case, one each for power-on, menu, mode and transmit. An LCD window at the back of the case shows whichever parameter isn't displayed in the HUD, which will show speed or range but not both. The window also displays the menu items and options.

There's a 1/4 x 20 tap in the bottom case for tripod mounting and a ring for a lanyard, should you choose to let it dangle from your neck between uses, like sunglasses. A front data port can link the laser to external devices or a laptop.

Kustom Signals offers two models. The basic Pro-Lite operates as a single-shot unit: One button-press produces one target speed. But rapid follow-up shots can still give a tracking history. The Pro-Lite Plus provides continuous speed/range updates for as long as you depress the transmit button. It also comes with a stopwatch feature, weather mode and differential-distance mode.

There's no power-off switch; the unit automatically turns itself off after a period of inactivity. Power consumption is quite low; I used my demo unit for eight hours in typical enforcement mode without exhausting a pair of alkaline AA batteries. A low-voltage warning advises of waning battery power. Kustom says that using high-capacity NiMH or lithium-ion AAs can easily double battery life, and I don't doubt that.

I found that using the Pro-Lite Plus was actually easier than the ProLaser III, a benefit from its light weight and compact dimensions. However, backlight reflections off the protective plastic eyepiece of the HUD created occasional glare, and it lacks the precision of its big brother's aiming optics. Range is also less, deliberately capped at 2,000 feet. But target acquisition is fast, and the unit is very tolerant of operator shake; it willingly snapped off speeds of cars up to 1,985 feet away. In all, the combination of a compact size, lower price and competitive feature set should help endear this new laser to traffic officers, particularly motor officers.

Laser Technology's UltraLyte Compact

The inventor of the speed laser, Laser Technology, Inc., has also weighed in with a lower-priced entry, the UltraLyte Compact. Those familiar with LTI's UltraLyte series will instantly recognize the newcomer. It looks similar to the full-size UltraLyte sans the battery-handle, and dimensionally it's, well, more compact. There's more to it than that, but you get the idea.

The Compact features a sturdy aluminum case that looks like its big brother's, only smaller. It weighs 2.5 lbs., complete with a pair of AA batteries. To hold the Compact, you slide your hand between the case and a leather strap located on the lower right side. Two rows of three horizontal membrane switches adorn the upper case, one along the centerline on each side. These operate all of the unit's functions, including operating mode, menu and power-on/off.

There's no conventional trigger; the transmit button, the closest of the right-hand row of switches, falls easily under the operator's right index finger.

You aim it through a 1x red-dot telescope. It's polarized to optimize viewing contrast, and you can adjust both polarization level and aiming-dot brightness. The Compact works in single-shot mode; press the fire button once to activate the telescopic aiming dot and once again to fire. It transmits until it acquires a target speed or the point of aim shifts away from the target, which generates an audible and visual error indicator. (If it's jammed, the Compact issues a special high-pitched oscillating ring and displays an E07 error code.)

A target-quality audible tone accompanies the speed-measuring process, and a high-pitched double beep confirms target-speed acquisition. Speed and range appear on a large, backlit LCD on the back of the case that also displays error codes, the operating mode and survey measurement results. The latter refers to the Compact's ability to measure slope distance when in Survey mode. With its accuracy tolerance of +/- 2 inches, this allows you to calculate inclination once you've measured horizontal and vertical distances.

Engaging the weather filter instructs the laser to measure only targets at least 250 feet away, enabling it to shrug off ill effects caused by bad weather and the patrol car's windshield and side glass.

Other standard features include auto power-down (leave it unattended for 15 minutes and the unit shuts off to prolong battery life), a rear-mounted serial port to export data and a tap on the bottom of the case for the 1/4 x 20 stud used by tripods and other mounts.

I spent a number of hours on the road with the Compact and found it as user-friendly as its up-market siblings. Aiming proved easy although, like all LTI units, this one is a bit more insistent on a steady hand, the only tangible effect of this company's world-class error-trapping software. Translation: What you aim at is what you get. This fact was amply proven in a high-profile New Jersey appellate-court case a few years ago after a year of effort and millions were expended. True, other lasers may better tolerate operator shake and wobbly aiming. But if an officer had to appear in court on a contested laser citation, if it's an LTI unit in question, it's a safe bet any defense potshots at the technology will prove fruitless.

The Compact may come in a smaller package, but I noticed little reduction in performance. When checking maximum range, I routinely saw speeds on approaching cars at 3,200 feet and tracked a Spandex-clad bicyclist huffing along at 15 mph some 1,423 feet away. With its downsized packaging and full-size performance and features, the LTI UltraLyte Compact strikes a good balance between price and performance.

Contact Info

Applied Concepts, Inc.

2609 Technology Drive

Plano, TX 75074-7467

Tel: 877/782-5537

E-mail: sales@stalkerradar.com

Web: www.stalkerradar.com

Decatur Electronics

715 Bright Street

Decatur, IL 62522

Tel: 800/428-4315

E-mail: info@decaturelectronics.com

Web: www.decaturradar.com

Kustom Signals, Inc.

9325 Pflumm

Lenexa, KS 66215-3347

Tel: 800/458-7866

E-mail: sales@kustomsignals.com

Web: www.kustomsignals.com

Laser Technology, Inc.

7070 S. Tucson Way

Centennial, CO 80112

Tel: 800/790-7364

Web: www.lasertech.com

 

Craig Peterson has been road testing and reviewing police vehicles cars, SUVs, undercover units and others since 1990 and has constructed a number of widely publicized police concept vehicles seen at IACP and similar venues. He's an IPTM-certified police radar instructor and an ex-race car driver, and he has authored hundreds of stories on vehicles, driver training, mobile electronics and speed-measuring technology for U.S. and foreign law enforcement magazines since 1990.

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