Saturday, April 19, 2014

Evolution of police laser (lidar) and its active and passive countermeasures

Updated: 1846Z-5, 23 Apr 14, By Veil Guy

When the engineers of Veil set out to counter the new speed enforcement targeting threat, called police laser or police lidar, during the early 90s, active countermeasures (ie; laser jammers) were not available. In fact, radar detector companies had yet to devise a way to even detect it.

I remember reading a Car and Driver article detailing some enterprising approaches the editors employed to reduce the targeting distances of police laser.  The boys fitted a vehicle with an extra headlight (reminiscent of a Tucker) and proceeded to test that vehicle with all three high-beams on. What they found was that their approach actually sliced some detection range from the first police lasers produced, the LTI 20-20.

Police lidar was marketed at the time as being undetectable (and unbeatable) and for a brief time it was. Thankfully Cincinnati Microwave (makers of the venerable Escort/Passport detectors) did manage to produce a dedicated laser detector that mounted alongside their radar detector. Mike Valentine of Valentine Research also responded to the new threat with his Valentine One or V1 that was internally fitted with a front-facing laser detection circuit.  Eventually Escort combined the laser detection functions into their future radar detectors and Valentine began producing V1s that included both a front and rear laser sensors.  Cobra, Beltronics, and Whistler followed suit and to this day radar detectors include both front and rear laser detection sensors built-in.

Police Laser/Lidar Rear Targeting Speed and Distance

All police lidar works using the same principle. Unlike police radar, which measures the doppler frequency shift of their signals to directly measure speed, police laser operates by firing a series of near-infrared light pulses at a fixed rate and then measures the changing times it takes to see their reflections from the targeted vehicle to calculate and report a speed.  Also unlike radar, vehicles are targeted individually like a sniper using a rifle. What this means is when your radar/laser detector alerts, you are being targeted and rarely will another driver receive an advanced warning. Without any form of additional protection, detectors are essentially ticket notifiers.  By the time you can react, your speed has been already clocked.

It took Veil Corporation nearly 10 years to complete its development of its passive countermeasure Laser Veil.  In 2004 the first official test of Veil was conducted by Speed Measurement Laboratories (SML) before the product was released to the marketplace.  Fortunately Veil was determined to be effective at reducing the targeting range of laser, enough so to provide the driver an additional two to 15 seconds of reaction time.

By that time there had been one laser jammer company called Blinder--introduced to the U.S. market in 1999 and still actively selling at the time--also being tested at SML and it too was proven to be an effective active countermeasure to police laser .  SML tested the Blinder at both 1000 and 500 foot ranges to see if speed readings were obtainable.

Blinder had been not the very first jammer to hit the U.S. market, however. That distinction went to the Lidatek LE-10. But, unlike the "brute-force" jams provided by the Lidateks, which were very effective, Blinder used a more efficient system of look-up tables which enabled their jammers to precisely synchronize their light pulses to precisely interfere with the known pulse-rates of the lidar guns in circulation.  The guns that were tested at that time were produced by LTI, Kustom Signals, and Stalker and then eventually Laser Atlanta.  There were also guns that were available abroad, namely the Riegl and Jenoptik Laveg.

Another early player was the K40 LD5500 Plus (introduced in 1994), but that unit proved to be ineffective against the current Gen 2 police lasers of the day.  Somewhat more effective but not up to the performance level of the Blinder was the BEL LaserPro 905 and its twin, the Escort ZR3.

Ontrack's LaserShield Plate Diffuser

Ontrack produced a passive countermeasure--a license plate cover which reduced reflectivity of the license/number plates by diffusing the reflected IR light pulses.  We found them to be very effective in and of themselves, however their effectiveness overall was compromised by the primary targeting areas, the headlights that remained unprotected. As the saying goes, you are only as strong as your weakest link and as such the LaserShield didn't fair well when used alone.  As a consequence the perception was that the product was ineffective.

Laser Veil Headlight Protector & Stealth Coating

Enter Veil.  Unlike an active countermeasure, Laser Veil, works on an entirely different principle, one of absorption, not interference. From the outset, Veil has been marketed as a product that could be used alone or as a complement to active countermeasures as it will always improve the performance of any laser jammer. It does so by reducing the overall visibility (technically called laser cross-section) of any vehicle or motorcycle. This makes it much easier for any laser jammers to do their job since they have less reflections to overcome.

Veil and Blinder had marketed their products as solutions to buy the driver some precious extra seconds to react and safely slow down to avoid a ticket. Neither were marketed as jam-to-gun solutions this was to not attract undue attention to themselves. Unfortunately, that message was drowned out by other manufacturers who were attempting to establish a foot-hold in the North American marketplace, namely Antilaser, Laser Defender, Laser Interceptor, and Laser Pro Park. Escort also introduced the improved ZR4, as a replacement to its ZR3, but like Blinder played it low key, calling their jammer a shifter (something they do to this very day).

Blinder Denmark had acquired patents for its look-up table jamming algorithm both abroad and in the North America. Unfortunately these other manufacturers along with a countless number of cheaply-made Korean Blinder knock-offs, failed to respect Blinder's patents and unscrupulously marketed their products to the enthusiast community. While no authoritative reviewer of the time such as SML, RadarTest, nor I chose to review these patent-infringing products out of respect for Blinder's IP, independent enthusiast testers did so and in a manner revealing the true performance capabilities of the jammers.  (Note: Most of the patent-infringement issues have been since resolved resulting in some settlements including one between Laser Interceptor (and Escort indirectly as they source their latest shifter through LI) and Blinder for an undisclosed amount and other infringers have long exited the U.S. marketplace.)

The word was getting out to the public, to the enthusiasts, traffic enforcement officers (who had access to the Internet), and ultimately the lidar manufacturers themselves.  The traffic enforcement community also had their online forums and the word was spreading there as well. Officers discussed why they were having difficulty obtaining speeds of the same vehicles day in and day out.

Unfortunately, the marketing message of these manufacturers was if a product didn't provide jam-to-gun (JTG) performance (provide jamming protection all the way to point-blank range) it was "junk."  For many years those marketing campaigns worked well (destructive and mean-spirited as they were and are to this very day). That very public message infected the online enthusiast community forums and enthusiast testing groups. It wasn't uncommon at the time for jammer owners to "tweak" traffic enforcement with repeated jam-to-guns, something that wasn't necessary at all.  Videos proliferated on YouTube demonstrating this as well.

The problem was that the pronouncements by the online community became too vocal and cavalier eventually leading the traffic enforcement community and lidar manufacturers to take notice.  They set out to do something about it.

Foreseeing the problems that this would create for the countermeasure community, I had penned an article that if the lidar manufacturers wanted to get serious about defeating laser jammers all they would have to do is to move away from using fixed-pulse in favor of either modifed-fixed, variable, or randrom pulse-rates.  This had already happened abroad with a new lethal police lidar called the Traffipatrol XR.

Laser Atlanta Normal vs Stealth-Mode Pulse Train (Courtesy: GoL)

In the U.S. market, the first evidence of this happening appeared with Laser Atlanta.  They introduced a mode called "stealth mode" or ECCM (electronic counter-countermeasure mode). When ECCM was activated, it varied the pulse-train slightly. For a time, not only did it defeat the laser jammers, it also prevented radar detectors from detecting them (with the exception of the V1). Whistler invested the resources into figuring the mode out and they became the second company able to detect and alert to it.  Escort and Beltronics were late to the party but eventually they too managed to detect it.

Blinder eventually figured out how to both detect and jam stealth-mode as did the other active countermeasure players but it took time to do and for during that time, drivers who relied upon actives jammers as their sole defense were vulnerable to intant-punch throughs or IPTs (that is--obtainable speed readings regardless of the distance--as if the driver had no countermeasures what so ever).

Fortunately for Veil owners, Veil proved very effective at countering LA's stealth-mode (as well as the TraffiPatrol XR), evidence that no matter what was thrown at the driver, Veil would effectively reduce the capture range.  In practice "stealth-mode" wasn't the threat that some believed it could be because 1) Laser Atlanta was a relatively small player in the industry; 2) the ECCM mode had to be explicitly enabled by the officer through a series of deeply embedded menu options; and 3) the jammer market was substantially smaller than the radar detector market.

As time marched on an increasing number more traffic-enforcement departments became aware of laser jammers and their effectiveness.  A number of states began to specifically outlaw their use. Currently twelve states in the US.  The states currently outlawing their use are:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington DC

Nine provinces of Canada also have laws on the books specifically outlawing the use of laser jammers as do other countries.  It's safe to assume more regions will follow suit. Penalties for getting caught with a jammer vary by region, so it's advisable to know the local laws. One user of jammers that I knew of personally, had his new car confiscated in Hong Kong, never to be returned.

To assist traffic enforcement in identifying drivers who use laser jammers, lidar manufacturers began including the ability to detect jamming attempts. While laser jammer companies have been worked to avoid triggering these jam alerts, they haven't been perfect at doing so.  

Things really took a turn for the worse when a new kid on the block (Digital Ally's Laser Ally) started appearing.  Interesting in making a splash, the manufacturer created an online account on the primary enthusiast forum of that time and an egregious public taunting ensued between them and the members of the laser jamming community. Essentially a gauntlet was thrown down by Laser Ally who claimed they would be producing police lidar guns specifically designed to be "unjammable."  

So it began, their marketing campaign to the traffic enforcement community.  The initial market penetration of the Laser Ally was quite small, in part, because it was hampered by poor marketing by their "manufacturer's rep" Digital Ally; the fact that the established players of LTI, Kustom, Stalker, and Laser Atlanta dominated the market place; and the process of being approved by the IACP as an accurate means of measuring speed.

DragonEye Compact.  Latest Generation Random Pulse Rate Police Lidar

Over time things had changed in their plus column.  Digital Ally went away and the underlying manufacturer known as DragonEye began marketing their products directly and more aggressively. Today, DragonEye has been making serious inroads into the traffic enforcement and the other more established manufacturers have taken notice and the number of states or local municipalities that are using them are growing. While the list of states remains sketchy states that are known to have them in use are Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Texas, and Delaware. In Canada, the DragonEyes have been spotted in the wild in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario.  Neither of these lists is complete, to be sure. It appears the New Jersey may reviewing these guns for incorporation into their arsenal.  I suspect other states are as well.

The other lidar manufacturers haven't been standing still either. LTI and Stalker have also introduced police lasers that have been designed to specifically defeat laser jammers.  As these newer generations of police lasers are being introduced, they are getting much smaller in size, far easier to operate hand-held, and most importantly have significantly dropped in price to roughly a third of what they were priced at originally.  Some of them are also including greater capabilities than merely speed detection.  One LTI model has the ability to record speeding events and a Kustom Signals gun has an event memory feature that can be used in the chain-of-evidence.

Police laser's popularity is continuing to grow.  Lidar is now price competitive with radar; much more portable than radar; is much harder to challenge in court than radar; can be used at distances far exceeding radar; and can be used during periods of heavy multi-lane traffic.

AntiLaser Priority Parking Sensor

With the next article, we'll discuss the specifics of these new lidar technologies; why it is becoming increasingly difficult for active countermeasures to defeat them; and which ones are the most effective at doing so in this continuing cat-and-mouse game.

Blinder HP-905 Quad Head Parking Sensor

Stay tuned and drive responsibly...and remember, never attempt to jam-to-gun, it's very irresponsible and puts the entire enthusiast community at risk (although the damage has long since been done).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Has Beltronics gone Sine Die?

Updated: 1134Z-5, 17 Apr 14, By Veil Guy

Beltronics going dark: A case to be made for the reversals of fortune

A brief history of the pinnacle years of Beltronics and Escort (ie; the Belscort years) from the perspective of an outsider.

While I have been driving with radar detectors since my youth (owning the very first superhet RD, the Escort) it was nearly 27 years later--when I introduced Laser Veil to be used as an adjunct to a radar detector--that I became part of this very special niche industry.  

During that time there existed three radar detectors, referred to as the ultra-premium detectors.  This powerhouse trinity was comprised of the Beltronics Pro RX65, Escort Passport 8500 X50, and the Valentine One.  The Escort and the V1 shared some DNA (no, I am not using Max marketing-speak) because Mike Valentine was once an integral-part of the original Cincinnati Microwave, the team the gave us the first Escort model.  But what had been less known at the time was that both the Passport 8500 X50 and the Beltronics RX65 also shared DNA--as the underlying design platform--that was of Beltronics.

When Escort "acquired" Beltronics just fours year earlier (a transaction that could have conceivably gone the other direction) and ostensibly became one company (consisting of two divisions), I observed that they had been operating effectively as two separate companies sharing one roof with each group retaining its identity (and allegiance).  

In my view, Beltronics (formerly BEL) had been, at its core, a technically brilliant powerhouse, but had been somewhat lacking in the sales and marketing capacity.  Contrasted to Beltronics was Escort (the original Cincinnati Microwave's petitioned reorganization), a company that was the mirror image of Beltronics at the time.  I know that opinion will probably irritate some within the organization today.  So be it. The fact that Escort's Passport 8500 X50 consisted of the Beltronics S7 platform, should settle any genuine argument to the contrary.

During that period, I had made several visits to their corporate headquarters located in West Chester Ohio just twenty minutes north of Valentine Research.  The evidence of the "divisions" between Beltronics and Escort was very clear to me.  Even some staff's cubicles even had been draped with Beltronics banners while others had Escort.  The pride of each division (now brand) was readily apparent. Yes there was some parts and resource sharing, there was at the time two separate engineering and sales "operations."

And while the online community commonly referred to the combined-organization as BELSCORT, I knew that this had been an inaccurate account of the actual composition of organization.  My perception was confirmed when it was officially communicated to me that each of the two companies preferred to be identified as Beltronics (not BEL) and Escort and both considered the term Belscort, to be a pejorative term.   Having observed, first hand, the internal structure of the organization, I respected their wishes and subsequently referred to each company (ie; brand) in a manner that was consistent with their expressly desired respective brand identities.

What the average consumer or enthusiast community member didn't realize was that although the products may have appeared to be the "same" (just with different packaging), those that had their hand in the creation of each model, certainly did not, nor did I.

During my years of driving with both of them, it became to readily apparent, to me, the subtle differences in performance and behavior that existed between the RX-65 and the 8500 X50.  Yes, they had both come from "one" company, Escort, but they were most certainly two different detectors.

The lasting impression of my visits of the time with Beltronics and Escort was that there existed internal tensions between the two camps (consider that they had once been direct competitors). But while there was certainly a feeling of some uneasiness within the marriage, these competitive tensions had actually been quite productive since they were now on the same team.

It struck me not unlike of what competitive tensions must exist between the starting quarterback and the secondary or the starting pitcher and the relief pitcher.  Tensions such as these are a healthy thing, in fact, are an essential dynamic.  They fuel the competitive "spirit" which often propels both to become individuals, each, at the top of their game.  These positive forces equally apply to organizations (ie; internal corporate divisions).

The unfortunate irony of this history is that under the tenor of John Larson (an odd appointment of one who came from GM, itself a multi-divisional company, albeit one that was and appears to remain ineptly managed), it was under his direction that Beltronics and Escort, became, for a time, BELSCORT in reality on a path to becoming essentially only ESCORT, today.

One of the problematic side-effects of his managing philosophy was that it replaced two divisional and distinct competitive spirits with one top-down-management-malaise which ultimately has had its impact felt throughout the whole of the organization and manifesting itself with the loss of individual divisional (ie: brand) identity.  And with that loss went the essential internal-competitive drive to propel each to remain at the top of their game.  We may just see how true this is in a short time.

Unfortunately the (Escort-centric) executive management has consistently been undermining the viability of Beltronics for years and they have been doing it through abject neglect and calculating brand de-emphasis.  I've seen this is as a great "crime" committed against an organization (and its constituents), simply for the aggrandizement of the Escort brand (not the company).

However, the casualties of those efforts weren't simply imparted to Beltronics they included Escort as well (both the brand and the company).  Its effects are evident in the time-line of product releases of each respective brand name.  (Note: Notice that I refrained from using the word division as my sense is that the physical two divisions that once existed have been amalgamated).

As mentioned in my previous article, instead of seeing an upwardly pointing straight-line succession of products by each brand, building up the past successes of each, we have instead experienced misfires and erratic product offerings of Escort, the company (adversely affecting both brands).

Let's take a brief look (as I seem them):

Beltronics RX65 (S7) & Escort Passport 8500 X50 (S7), along with the V1, these were the indisputable the class leading detectors of the time and for many years that followed.  Both the Beltronics and Escort models still as relevant as they were when they were initially introduced my than a decade ago.

Escort Passport 9500i series: Escort's first GPS-enabled detector. While novel, it was handicapped by Escort-centric management lacking in technical clarity and more interested in image making than letting the performance of the unit speak for itself.  The series has been plagued with behavioral idiosyncrasies that undermine the experience of ownership for the sake of enhancing perceived consumer value.

Beltronics GX-65: Essentially a mirror image of the 9500ix, but on the surface retained some Beltronicsness.  Perhaps the quintessential BELSCORT model, and one that I nearly ever used personally and the first tangible evidence of brand confusion in that this was a Passport 9500ix masquerading as a Beltronics model.

Beltronics STi Driver:  First M3 platform class defining detector, intentionally handicapped to make way for a future Escort model to be superior in performance, by design.

Beltronics STi-R: A class shattering detector, one of the very best ever produced in nearly the 40 year history of the entire industry.  Special configurations propel this detector to the stratosphere (that had not been recognized by the executive management of Escort) but was first discovered and reported upon by yours truly.

Passport 9500ci: Meant to be perceived as superior with much marketing emphasis but was, in reality, unintentionally handicapped by technically inept (Escort-centric) management, something along the lines of the 9500 series. I refrained from publishing a formal review of it.

Escort C65: Second real tangible evidence of brand confusion going down-market and collateral damage from Escort directly engaging the retail market, thwarting its long-established and developed channel sales. The first real Beltronics models masquerading as an Escort in name only.

Escort Redline: Again meant to be technically superior by design to the original STi Driver, and was in a number of ways, but like the Passport 9500ci, was handicapped by technically inept (Escort-centric) management and was one that I ultimately didn't recommend or use personally, nor did I publish a formal review of it, although provided critique privately, but obviously that feedback had little effect initially.

Beltronics STi Magnum: Supposed replacement and upgrade to original STi Driver, but again was knee-capped by Escort-centric management desiring to promote Escort as the premium brand and subordinate Beltronics to Escort.

Passport iQ: Interesting concept, on paper--but with the advent of smartphone nav. apps--serving no real market need, particularly in an RDD detectable M4-platforum.  Refrained from formally reviewing. Notice in preview article, raised the notion of crowd-sourcing application (a harbinger of what was to be Escort Live--as troubled as that application remains--and at the expense of startup Signal Active).

Escort Passport 8500 X50 Black: Surprisingly a nice update to an old-workhorse now in an M4-platform and one that I thoroughly enjoy driving with.  Nice job, Escort!

Escort Smart Radar: Another winner and is my favorite M4-design radar detector to ever come from the halls of Beltronics or Escort.  I suppose even a broken clock is right twice a day. Again, nice job Escort!

Escort Redline Expert Edition: What the original Escort Redline should have been at the start had it not been for an overly heavy-hand of marketing centric-management adversely impacting true-technical leadership. Addressed a good number of critiqued elements that I had presented privately with the initial product release.  In a few short words: The very best performing dash-mount radar detector to this point in history.  And the third real tangible evidence of brand-confusion and once again it was a Beltronics (STi-R) masquerading as an Escort product.

Escort Passport MaxOh come on! This one I couldn't let stand!  Publicly critiqued. Escort's best selling dash-mount radar detector (at time of launch) and the first real tangible evidence that Escort, the company, had not only lost it's way, but it's soul, as well.

Notice that I have refrained from mentioning the complete misfires and irrelevant products that Escort attempted to introduce into the marketplace (and failed).

I focus on the detectors, because of MCP (Escort's new benefactors) and their stated mission for returning Escort (and hence Beltronics) to their core competencies.  So I think it is crucially important to lay out (again as I see it), the product release cycle of the primary products labeled under each brand-name.

I refrained from mentioning the down-market also-rans as I believe Escort has too many irons in the fire and while I certainly can understand the value of offering down-scale lower-performing products that don't quite test-out on the bench, I believe it is important for Escort to reduce the overall count of radar detectors and instead focus on improving quality control during the manufacturing process, which has clearly taken a beating as evidenced by the Passport Max.

When I read the official position of Escort with respect to its recent acquisition by MCP:

Monomoy's direction is focused two-fold: 1) maximize profits for their investors and 2) return ESCORT to its core competency of designing, manufacturing & marketing the world's best radar detectors.

My take away from this is not only will Escort be refocusing on the radar detector market, but will be focusing on producing the "best" radar detectors. 

As I see it, "best" means best performing, not best selling.

Excellence through leadership

This should have several implications.

First and most importantly: Escort must improve the design, production, testing, and QA/QC process. Performance means nothing, if the quality isn't there and the products aren't built to last. The most successful (in terms of "accomplishment," not revenue) are those that produce products that the consumer replaces when something better comes along, not when it breaks. Extended warranties shouldn't be a viable source of revenue, if the design and manufacturing is sound, period.

Second: Along the lines of the first, simplifying the product pipeline including the reduction of b-grade products that have been used as a source for the downscale models currently being offered.  Again, best means that best.  That means upscale, premium, ultra-premium, not merely average, below average, or (even worse) substandard.  The result of which means brand re-enforcement and validation of high-quality, because the products actually are, not because of a marketing tag that says so.

Third:  It is critically important that the competitive spirit be allowed and encouraged to thrive. This is the only way to truly excel year after year, model after successful model.

Along that third point, my perception is that once Beltronics delivered us the STi-R and gave Escort's executive management a clear winning hand, they lost the initiative to continue challenging themselves to do better and instead chose to ride the "momentum" and use that momemtum to propel them into uncharted and un-charted un-tested waters.  Distractions flourished.  Technology extant was re-invented on more than one occasion.  (ie; GPS nav devices and crowd-sourcing software software apps).  

The problem with momentum, is that it never lasts, by definition.  One needs an active propulsion system and that propulsion system remains the competitive drive.

Once a company becomes the dominant one in the industry, it is at that time when it is at its most vulnerable: the time when the existential force of healthy competitive spirits that got them there often evaporates and the company instead chooses to ride the wave of past successes, gets bored, overly ambitious, too self-confident & self-absorbed, and ultimately careless. It's these dynamics which ultimately infect the corporate culture from the top-down. creating an increasing drag on what momentum there was initially.

Eventually you get passed by and the very talent that got you there in the first place often ends up leaving (because they have become bored themselves) or worse have been de-valued and RIF'd away (to another competitor)..

Now as Escort, the company, remains headless and is engaged in some serious inwardly facing soul-searching, it's critically important to remember that from chaos, comes order. Order, in the form of clarity and a unifying vision outwardly looking towards a brighter future;  an environment in which a new leader will be born (to spawn other leaders) to make that vision of a better tomorrow, a reality for all.

Blueprint for action!
  • Revitalize the BELTRONICS brand.
  • Embrace the notion of a competitive spirit between both brands (ie; divisions) of BELTRONICS and ESCORT.
  • Become your OWN competitor and let the healthy dynamics of brand-identity and competitive-drive propel both brands forward.
  • Pronounce with signage on your buildings that you are BOTH Beltronics and Escort, with pride!
  • Clarify the meaning of the primary brands of Escort (the company), including: Beltronics, Escort, Passport, Cincinnati Microwave
  • Create and maintain a subtle but consumer-recognizable differentiation between the brands and allow the customer-base, loyal to each, to flourish.
  • Direct sales and marketing efforts to re-enforce each one's brand identity with the consumer.
  • Get out of and stay out of retail, and utilize the costs savings from those operations to improve the design, manufacturing, assembly, and testing pipeline.  In other words, stick to manufacturing (your core competency)
  • Revitalize your value added sales channel and distribution systems.
  • Enable your authorized retailers to succeed by giving them the support they require.
  • Cease the unethical practice of breaking your own MAP policies and harvesting customer data for the expressed purposes of direct sales (at the expense of your wholesale and retail) partners.
  • Leverage any direct customer communication to drive sales activities to your VARs.
  • Clearly communicate your company's value proposition (mission statement) to all players including, leaders, staff, channel, and consumer and continuously re-enforce it, not just through words, but through action.
  • Increase revenues through increased market penetration, not through cannabilization of your existing sales (channel), nor  increase margin through reckless product cost cutting.
  • Empower those tasked (VAR channel) to sell and create product pull-through, do their job and don't undermine them. Remember, the most successful manufacturers have the healthiest (sales and distribution) channels.
  • Allow the technical leadership to lead their respective teams (without undue meddling from up top).
  • Share components whenever possible to streamline and simplify production and packaging all the while maintaining brand individuality. 
  • Give group leaders of each brand (ie; division) an equal voice in the management hierarchy.
  • Establish clearly defined goals throughout all aspects of the operation and hold people accountable to them.
  • Listen!  Listen to your customer-base!  Listen to your distribution and retail channels!  Listen to your staff! Encourage knew ideas no matter the source.  Forgo the "not invented here, syndrome."
  • Lose the arrogance.  It might feel good, to some, but it is self-defeating, in reality.  Lose the staff/management who personify hubris.  Replace them with those who have humility and a healthy-dose of pragmatism.
  • Have fun working together!  Fostering an environment which sparks creativity and encourages enjoyment is essential for building cohesiveness.  
  • Reward success!
  • It's Spring, open the windows and air out the place.
  • Encourage corporate sponsored employee "fun" events, away from the office, on a yearly basis to foster relationship building.
  • Change the corporate culture for the better!  A company is always greater than the some of its individual constituents.
  • Always move, never stagnate.
  • Create a culture of success, correcting errors quickly before they become mistakes.
  • Always fail forward!
I've used this analogy before and I believe it is still apt.  While Bentley was once a Rolls Royce division, it came with its own unique identity and customer experience.  Rolls Royce's products were marketed to those that preferred to be driven.  Bentley was marketed to those that preferred to drive themselves.  

Let Escort continue to cater to the drivers who place more emphasis on driving with a quiet radar detector (ie; an automatic-transmissioned Rolls) and allow Beltronics to continue to appeal to those that demand the highest performance as sine qua non (ie; a manual-transmissioned Bentley).

Now that both brands of these automotive brands are independently owned and operated--quite successfully to this day--teaches us an important lesson in corporate governance and effective brand management.

That lesson is (that) different brands owned by one company, should be able to stand on their own without the other.  They should be viable and capable of being sold off to operate as a separate entity, to be competitive and to retain their respective customer base.

If the new regime wishes to continue the trajectory of the Larson era--something that can not be true by definition--and further diminish the Beltronics brand as it relates to Escort, may I suggest that instead you strengthen it to sell it off, as opposed to letting wither on the vine?

However, I believe for Escort (the company), the smarter play yielding the biggest winning outcome for all, is to follow the above plan, so as to empower empower you...

And always, in all ways, FAIL FORWARD...towards everlasting SUCCESS!

Veil Guy

PS:  The next class shattering detector: M3, with perfected digital back-end, in a magnesium case, fully QA'd, in an exceptional package is to be branded Beltronics!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Valentine Research: Does the next decade belong to Mike Valentine?

Updated: 1721Z-5, 12 Apr 14, By Veil Guy

Not so long ago, I proclaimed that the last decade belonged to Escort and for good reason.  In that span of time the combined organizations of Beltronics and Escort gave us the first (fully realized) GPS-enabled game-changing radar detector (Passport 9500i), the first RDD undetectable radar detector (Beltronics STi Driver), the first band-segmented radar detector ever (Beltronics STi-R), and the highest performing dash-mount radar detector of all-time (the revised Escort Redline EE).

For quite a long time, Escort (appeared to have) held all of the cards.  

However and most unfortunately, a dark cloud has been gradually forming over that organization and what may have appeared to have been a winning hand, at one time, may now simply be a house of cards on the brink of collapse.

While Beltronics and Escort have been hitting home runs, they have also been losing a good number of games.  The management era of John Larson (now having come to a close) took the company to areas with which it was not familiar and were untested.  

Beset with bad investments in new product development unrelated to their core competency; misguided investment into the Chinese market; the commitment of precious resources to (re)build a direct marketing organization (and in the process undermine their well established distribution network and sales channel) and related ineffectual tactical product cross-branding, brand dilution, distractions from (unmerited?) patent infringement suits, and loss of technical clarity suggest to me that the company had lost their way.  

Instead of us seeing a continuing onslaught of class obliterating products each built upon the accumulation of past successes, we instead got a bunch of misfires, including their latest disastrous launch of their supposed halo product, the Passport Max, a product plagued with problems and one that was clearly directed by management skilled more in marketing than technical brilliance.

With the recent involvement of Monomoy Capital Partners (a VC firm), the desperate infusion of cash may have come with an exacting toll and, most certainly, a change of governing philosophy but one that has two potentially very positive long-term implications: 1) a return to profitability and 2) a return to core competency.

Just this week, the costs at the wholesale level, of accessories have risen considerably (in only a
few short years components have inflated nearly 500%)--conceivably a very smart play for raising profitability without cutting quality.

While it is only to be expected that during any reorganization there is going to be some handing out of pink-slips, it has been especially troubling that there has been some recent cutting of high-quality personnel, resulting in the loss of some extremely talented individuals.  Cost cutting through payroll reduction can be a good thing, if done judiciously and with precision, but can impart mortal injuries if done indiscriminately, too broadly, or with haste.

In all of this, however, there's been another firm, one that has continued to manufacture products of excellence and with such focus, for more than two decades.  That firm is Valentine Research and that product is the Valentine One.  While VR may have never reached the market saturation or achieved sales or revenue anywhere near Escort (they didn't need too, either), Mike's closely-knit organization has remained absolutely focused (like a police laser beam) and committed to continually producing the very best for great value.

I am not aware of any other piece of consumer electronics, none, that remains as relevant today as much as it did when it was first launched.  I am also not aware of any product, nada, that has maintained the same retail price, either.

Mike Valentine and his organization clearly are in a class of their own.

In a few short weeks time, we all may very well be reminded again of how so very true this is.

One of the reasons that you haven't read a review of mine concerning the Valentine One LE connection or V1C for short, was in part due to the fact that I didn't want to publish a review only to find that it would become immediately stale.  That instinct may have been a good one for it appears that Valentine Research may be introducing a major upgrade to the venerable V1.  

There has been a quiet "buzz" afoot about something big coming from the boutique of VR's walls and that buzz may be soon becoming deafening.  Judging by the IP work filed (and approved) we could soon expect to see a new V1 imbued with a significantly improved display and a substantial improvement in Ka-reception capability something that I would expect would trump the Redline EE. 

On the Ka-sensitivity front, while Escort internally challenged and refused to accept my novel findings years ago about the performance benefits gained, in the real-world, from Ka band segmentation (of their own design), Valentine embraced my empirical observations and then ran with 'em.

In terms of flexibility, it wouldn't surprise me to see USB connectivity and Bluetooth integration for both iPhone and Android smartphones contained within the unit given the size of its housing. That's something I don't care for with the existing V1C--the requirement of additional components (no matter how small).

While Mike insists that GPS false lock-out is a "dangerous" thing to use (something with which I tend to agree and don't use myself), I have seen that with some enthusiast-developed software (called YAV1), that GPS-lockout using a V1C is far superior to the blunt-instrumentality of Beltronics and Escorts variants.  I can only imagine how good it could be if they attempted to do something along those lines, in-house.

I am also virtually certain that VR could really devise a system that is extremely effective at filtering out the K-band emissions of the automobile lane-departure systems which I regard as the greatest nuisance of falses ever and something that GPS-lockout is unable to tame. Certainly if Whistler can be so effective at it, I have to believe so can Valentine.

Some of this is speculation on my part, so please don't call Valentine and tell them, "Veil Guy said this..."  However if even I am only half right in my prognostication, I believe it's going to instantly catapult the V1 (or whatever it is going to be called) to the very top of the food chain and we will be witnessing an undisputed "changing of the guard," or as some would say, a "crowning of a new king."

If, on top of that, you consider that Valentine Research is just about 20 minutes south of West Chester--an easy commute for some newly "unemployed" super talented invidual(s) RIF'd from Escort by MCP--it's really not all that hard to imagine the next decade (or two) could easily (re)belong to Valentine.

Happy and safe motoring, my friends...and fasten your seat-belts!