Since the 1990s, few interoperability tools have been as popular as the Raytheon JPS ACU-1000, which allows any type of audio device to be interconnected with any other audio device.

Particularly useful when interoperability is needed for lengthy periods during large-scale incidents, the ACU-1000 is not as useful in short-term events because deployment typically requires a computer and trained communications personnel.

“We have a couple of ACU-1000s, but we don't use them much,” said one public-safety official who requested anonymity. “By the time we'd get them deployed, the incident is pretty much over, in most cases.”

To address this need, Raytheon JPS is unveiling the ACU-M, a smaller version of the ACU-1000 that is designed to be portable and easy enough to deploy that even untrained first responders can achieve interoperable links quickly at the scene of an incident, said Doug Hall, senior scientist for Raytheon JPS.

“It's one of those things where the very people who are out there responding will be able to set this up and use it, if necessary,” he said.

Weighing less than 4 pounds with a splash-proof, smudge-proof exterior, the ACU-M is designed for field deployments and utilizes the same cables as the ACU-1000, Hall said. While the ACU-1000 typically requires an additional computer hook-up, the ACU-M is a stand-alone device — it can be connected to a network via an intuitive interface and has buttons large enough to be pushed by users wearing gloves, he said (see photo).

“After you've hooked up your radios and cables, you can see the buttons on the front panel,” Hall said. “If you want to connect Radio 1 to Radio 2, you press the button for Radio 1 and the button for Radio 2, hit the Connect button, and you're done.”

Although the ACU-M includes the same intellectual property as the ACU-1000, it has a fixed, four-radio configuration (plus two voice-over-IP connections) compared with the 12 radios supported by its larger predecessor. The ACU-M also lacks the AC-100's hardware-expandability features as well as many fine-tuning features that typically require training to utilize properly.

As a result, Hall said he believes the ACU-1000 will remain the solution of choice for communications centers supporting large-scale incidents from a fixed site. But for first responders in the field, Raytheon JPS claims the ACU-M will be more useful.

“If there's an incident and you have agencies that show up and need to communicate, all you have to say is, ‘Bring us one of your hand-held radios, and we'll hook it up,’” Hall said. “It's a matter of grabbing a cable, grabbing their radio and hooking it up. You can be interoperating literally in minutes with an ACU-M — without the use of a computer.”

Retail priced at $3995 per unit, the ACU-M is a fraction of the cost of the ACU-1000, so a public-safety agency can afford to utilize the smaller interoperability solution throughout its fleets, Hall said.

“Because of its light weight and ease of configuration, the ACU-M is envisioned as a great thing to have in the fire truck or a police car,” he said.