Sunday, November 21, 2010

RadarActive Review: Are Conventional Radar Detectors Obsolete?

RadarActive and crowdsourcing, The Ultimate Game Changer?

RadarActive v1.7 for iPhone

Updated: 23 Apr 14, By Veil Guy

GPS technology certainly has permanently changed the radar detector landscape. I knew this when I was the first to pronounce that GPS-detector integration was a game changer years ago—not just a trendy gimmick—and we have Escort (really Uniden) to thank for this.

Since I reviewed an early model of the Passport 9500i, the first high-end radar detector to offer incorporated GPS capability, in just a couple short years, Escort further improved the power of GPS/radar detection integration with subsequent products including the Passport 9500ix, Passport 9500ci, and most recently their Passport iQ.

Other manufacturers have also followed in Escort's trailblazing**, though nothing as yet has compared to the overall performance and sophistication of Escort's (and Beltronics') designs.

I remember my first drive with the Passport 9500i and that I fathomed the possibilities of marrying GPS geo-coding to radar/laser detection alerts.

Fast forward a mere two years and along has come the proliferation of an even more significant technology—Internet connected SmartPhones like the class-leading Apple iPhone. Again the wheels turned in my mind as I pondered the potential provided by the future integration of radar/laser detection, GPS, and SmartPhone technologies. I am anxiously waiting for Escort to publicly embrace/announce such an approach using their new Passport iQ (platform) as they may be considering this internally.

Well, now there's NO need for me to ponder (or wait) any longer. The future has finally arrived and it has all been made possible by a new upstart company named SignalActive and their radically new software/hardware application called RadarActive.

Does RadarActive have the potential of making conventional radar detectors obsolete? Well, before I answer that question, let me describe what RadarActive actually is.

According to the developer (who happens to be an avid reader of my blog!), RadarActive is a speed trap information network where live police speed traps are crowdsourced directly from other drivers (primarily those who use radar detectors).

RadarActive is a software application designed to run on Apple's iOS and the hardware devices which run it, namely the iPhone and iPad 3G. Using the GPS capabilities of these devices to collaboratively share, in real-time, speed trap encounters with other uses of RadarActive.

The Valentine 1 Gets a New Lease on Life

The program itself is free for download from iTunes and can be used with an optional hardware interface ($89) to one the best radar detectors of all time, the Valentine 1. By interfacing with the V1, the iPhone acts as a remote display replacement for the Valentine while providing real-time GPS mapping and positioning.

As one drives, geo-coded data such as known red light cameras, speed cameras, and police speed traps of varying type (radar, laser, VASCAR) appear on the map and alert you to their presence. These marked locations are provided by other users and public data-sources, in real-time, and are date and time-stamped as to the freshness (or staleness) of the last reported encounter. During the alert, one can vote for the authenticity of the marked location to aid other drivers in qualifying the reported threat.

RadarActive can be used for free as a stand-alone product (no radar detector is needed) or with any radar detector, but when mated to the Valentine 1 specifically, when a speed-trap encounter is reported, the type of alert (such as Ka-band) is automatically associated with the report so when another driver comes upon the location, he or she will not only be alerted to the threat, but will also be informed as to its specific nature—be it X, K, Ka, or lidar—as the V1's alert detail is recorded along with the reported/marked location!

When in unfamiliar territory, other drivers will be alerted to the preferred hide-outs LEO's like to use, even if they are not actively operating radar/laser/VASCAR at the time. This is the kind of critical knowledge that only the seasoned local drivers would ordinarily know. By displaying these reported locations real-time on the map, drivers who are unfamiliar with their surroundings will be immediately alerted to patrolled regions of the highway which can help them determine a safe and prudent speed with which to drive for a given duration.

Android users will be pleased to learn that there will be a version of RadarActive for their phones in the near future.

Furthermore, the developers are inviting owners of other radar detector brands to request an interface for their particular model.

As I made a 100 mile loop around the greater Philadelphia area, I was correctly notified of all redlight camera locations (on Roosevelt Blvd/Route 1) and common state trooper ambush locations on I-476 (Blue Route) and Route 422.

Depending on your approach speed, you will receive the audio alert (with the correct band identification alert-tone) at varying distances along with a distance countdown to the actual marked location.

Collaborative knowledge sharing technology is the ultimate game-changer.

In areas where radar detectors are forbidden, drivers armed with their iPhone can now be alerted to radar/laser threats without the direct need for a radar detector. The same is true for commercial truckers who can now benefit from other drivers who are legally permitted to operate them, without having to worry about getting sideways with the law or having the absolute need to own and operate a spectre-immune radar detector like the Escort Redline and Beltronics STi Driver.

A couple of caveats when using ActiveRadar with the hardware interface kit. Since the iPhone acts as the concealed display, the V1 goes totally dark. Also, if using the auxiliary output of the iPhone, when making or receiving phone calls, one must use the speaker-mode or a Bluetooth link to talk as the V1 effectively uses the MIC-input disabling the built-in microphone of the iPhone. That was a problem for my older BMW which doesn't have bluetooth. Also you can hear a very slight bleed over of the input signal into the audio output section.

Also, while the program integrates nicely with the iPod and Pandora applications, it does not do so well with Rhapsody (my preferred music streaming service). Rhapsody, of course, can run in the background using iOS 4, but improved integration would be welcomed.

A feature I would like to see in a future version of ActiveRadar is the manual ability to mark false locations (along with the complete alert profile—band IDs and bogey count) to inform other drivers of probable false locations. The ability to alert to such reports could be selectively enabled by the driver with the application's settings menu.

The Best False Alert Handling in the Business

As it stands, RadarActive does automatically log and report certain (false) detection alerts, when and where they happened and it even harvests directional information, bands detected, and bogey counts, provided by the V1's radar locator to properly place them on the map. It also allows other users to tag the alert as a false positive, moving police encounter, or real alert when they come upon the same area. This feature is really incredible because this prepares you for the false detections before you actually come upon them! So no more having to nail the brakes every time your radar detector alerts! And at this point, I have the volume of my V1 way down so when it does alert it is not at all annoying. In fact, the volume can be completely down, because when you approach a previously reported false, the program slightly mutes the audio output of the phone's aux line-out so if you happen to be streaming/playing music loudly and you are presented a quick staccato of very pleasant tones while displaying distance countdowns to the alerts' maximum detected levels.

The ability to auto-mute, in advance, harvested false locations with the Valentine 1 and other detectors will soon be possible. One simple way to do this is for the application itself to directly alert with the detector's native tones through the iPhone's aux. output. As stated earlier, the V1 can have its volume turned completely down since the concealed interface is providing the information. Imagine saying goodbye, once and for all, to all of the false alerts from this uber-sensitive radar detector (or any other sensitive detector for that matter).

Such a capability will eclipse Escort's own TrueLock auto-lockout feature because other drivers could provide the advanced knowledge of the false locations with repeated encounters and share them immediately to everyone else. This should also eliminate the possibility of false lockouts of real traffic radar (as some have complained about with TruLock)—this is a revolutionary feature here, folks.

Furthermore, users—appreciating the lightening-fast reactivity (to briefly reflected longer-duration radar and quick-trigger) and the benefit of directional arrows that only the V1 provides—can finally have their cake and eat it too (an ultra-quick radar detector that doesn't excessively false as a consequence). Now that would be about the hottest ticket going—a super-empowered GPS-enabled Valentine 1.

Additionally, having the ability to manually specify other types of speed traps, like stationery VASCAR (or ENRADD) setups, could also be especially helpful. These time-distance measurement techniques are commonly used throughout PA by the locals as only state troopers are permitted to operate traffic radar.

While the provided documentation is scant, the application itself has a FAQ section and their website provides more information.

The beauty of RadarActive is that as the most sophisticated drivers use the program, the better and more useful the knowledge-database becomes. Since the GPS function of the iPhone does not directly require an active data or cellular connection, any data collected during a network outage will automatically be relayed back to RadarActive's database servers upon subsequent re-connection.

So, going back to my initial question. Are conventional radar detectors now obsolete?

In a word, NO, they are not, at least not yet...

...BUT, the writing is most certainly on the wall—knowing the swiftness of new technology—conventional non-connected radar/laser detectors are likely going the way of the dodo—unless, of course, they're paired with smartphone and/or crowdsourced technologies like that of RadarActive.

Furthermore, other drivers who don't currently or ever don't desire to own one, may have less of an incentive to do so with such an application, in a stand-alone setup, as they too can stand to benefit from others who choose/continue to use 'em.

These drivers don't have to be perceived as "leechers," though, as they can still report speed trap locations simply upon visual identification of either an active speed trap or an existing traffic stop.

Those drivers who appreciate the greatness of the Valentine 1, now have a 21st century GPS capability that Valentine, itself, has not offered.

Valentine's philosophy has always been that they will continuously tweak the V1 (whenever dictated by circumstances and not by sales and marketing goals) while providing the most advanced hardware interface of any detector—leaving it to others, skilled in the art, to take things to the another level.

The vast majority of people still fail to understand this and instead accuse Valentine Research as not being innovative. These naysayers (ie; retailers of other manufacturers) couldn't be more wrong.

Valentine has given all of the advanced interfacing tools , leaving it to others to enhance the V1's capability, this is something no other detector company has had the foresight to do. The sheer combined capability of RadarActive+V1 is evidence of this fact. Keep the faith in VR.

These guys are pushing the outside of the envelope.

In just a short number of months, SignalActive has already updated/improved their application eight times and this upstart appears very receptive to suggestions for product improvements—which generally isn't the case with the more established companies. We expect the pace of improvement of both their system to continue to be fast and furious. In fact, SignalActive has indicated to me that their system is constantly being improved, so just hold on to your smartphones, there is even more exciting stuff coming.

Truth be told, ever since Escort developed the Passport 9500ix/9500ci, my Valentines have been since relegated to the closet. But, thanks to RadarActive, my four Valentines now have a new lease on life on my dash. So don't count the Valentine 1 out, just yet as GPS-empowerment serves to keep the Valentine 1 relevant, to be sure.

I once tried Trapster, but quickly determined the ubiquitous alerts ("police often hide here"), became painfully annoying and essentially useless. Since RadarActive automatically and quickly ages-out older reports and uses bonafide radar detector alerts to validate most of the reports, the quality of the overall experience should be far superior to others. Furthermore, Valentine 1 owners tend to be much more sophisticated and technically inclined as a group of enthusiast drivers, so the quality of the data coming from such owner/operators has the real potential to be quite good.

Bottom line: every enthusiast driver who owns a smart phone should be driving with RadarActive, starting NOW!

The sooner more enthusiast drivers use this invaluable tool, the quicker the system will improve. I am a huge fan of open-source-type—as opposed to proprietary (often for a fee)—shared information that the Internet community generally encourages. Help make this collaborative effort go viral, by spreading the word at social networking sites and automotive and cycle forums (linking to this article, can't hurt, either).

Don't yet own a smartphone?

Well then it's high time to trade in your older cell phone and get one—as you can offset, to some extent, the cost of your cell provider's data-plan with the cost savings of the elimination of a radar detector manufacturer's proprietary subscription plan with the free open-sourced nature of RadarActive's shared information network. Considering the costs of tickets these days when you factor in everything, if RadarActive saves you from just one speeding ticket, it essentially pays for the cost the data plan to operate it.

Furthermore, since Valentine 1's are far less expensive ($250-$350 less) than some of the newest hardware-based GPS detectors currently being offered, the immediate savings you realize from your purchase can also offset your cost of entry, to a good extent, to this 21st century solution.

SPECTRE Immunity (with the Escort Redline/Passport 9500ci/Beltronics STi-Driver/STi-R and STi-R Plus) and RadarActive
When I blogged my feelings about Escort's new Passport iQ, I mentioned the potential of the platform, but opined about the initial release not possessing Spectre III/IV immunity, considering its cost premium. For the price of $650-$750, its unfortunate the it ain't there (at least for now) and I still hold to that opinion. In fairness to Escort, I've been told by them that such a package is not practical on a number of levels.

BUT, we fans of either high-end model (of which I am one) can still have our cake and eat it too, with a hardware interface for both models (which I am told is very doable). As is the case with the V1, the cost of entry to such a configuration would come under the cost of the other (higher) price models and provide the same capabilities.

In fact, if you consider that AT&T Wireless currently offers or has offered new and refurbished iPhone 3G and 3GS (my preferred even over the iPhone 4) for $99 and less (and other Android-based phones), some even for free with appropriate data plans, some of which are pretty inexpensive, your cost of entry could be had just on the mere initial savings with the selection of this currently superior alternative.

I have been informed by the folks at SignalActive that the amount of actual bandwidth used by their application is extremely small as compared to other Internet-related activities. So fears of excessive usage-charges for metered wireless data plans should be allayed.

Other more established players that are already in the hardware integrated GPS/radar detection manufacturing business may eventually attempt to enter this space and may even try to charge their users for the privilege of using the shared knowledge collected with their products (perhaps even striving to keep the data they collect proprietary), but utilizing the open-source nature of a well-designed shared-data networking system consisting of users of a software product that is radar detector manufacturer agnostic (as RadarActive promises to be) would be my personal preference and likely prove to be very very tough to be beat (just think of the success of Wikipedia).

Any detector that doesn't possess these enhanced crowdsourcing capabilities feels instantly dated.

Remember you've read it here first, mark my words: crowdsourcing technology, like that of RadarActive, will change the face of radar detection forever...and become the ultimate game changer...the ultimate detection enhancement.

Talk about situational 'bout situational awareness on steroids!

Start driving the safest and the smartest and once you have, you'll never look-back.

Yeah, as if you couldn't tell, I am really hot for this technology.

Veil Guy

Additional reading: RadarActive Review online discussion

**It was actually Uniden, who first attempted (a more limited form of) GPS/radar detection integration, but their products were ultimately not successful in the marketplace.
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