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New Technology Taking Body Cams to Next Level

Face-to-face with the driver of a suspicious vehicle after making a traffic stop, an officer pulls up the suspect's arrest record, snaps a photo of a gun sitting out in plain view, requests backup and captures video of the entire incident -- all while not losing eye contact.

The idea of an officer doing all of these things through the use of a wearable camera may sound like a scene from a scene from a science fiction movie, but the concept is not as far-fetched as it may seem.

Today, more companies are creating law enforcement-based software programs that work hand-in-hand with new technology being developed in Silicon Valley.

Texas-based Stalker Radar -- which released the in-car video and officer location system CopTrax earlier this year -- recently completed the first successful field trial using Google Glass by law enforcement officials. The company plans to show the technology at its booth during the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia next week.

CopTrax Product Manager Bill Switzer told that Stalker was quickly sold on the potential of Google's new device and decided to move forward with integrating its software in order to stay on the cutting-edge.

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"We had heard about this new technology called Google Glass -- which was supposed to be this amazing technology that would give you eye-level video and a powerful computing ability, right there worn by an individual," he said. "We thought about all of the law enforcement applications and how great it would be for a police officer to have his hands free, and yet be able to capture video from his point of view."

Improving Wearable Video

While CopTrax offers a smartphone application to go along with its in-car video solution, Switzer said there are drawbacks that come with mounting a phone to an officer's uniform.

"One of the shortcomings of the smartphone app is that you physically have to have your phone mounted on your chest," he said. "One of the issues that we had was that most cops aren't used to wearing a smartphone on their chests and that smartphones come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. It seems like as soon as you make a pouch or some other type of device connected to a shirt, they've come out with a new smaller model or bigger model. It just becomes almost impossible to keep up with the form factor."

He added that another drawback is that due to the position of the camera, the view of the officer isn't always captured. "A lot of times, when your chest is pointed one way, your eyes are pointed another way," he said. "You don't actually get the perspective of the officer from his eyes."

Through the use of a head-mounted computer equipped with 5 megapixel camera that takes 720p high definition videos and includes voice recognition and a heads up display that essentially mirrors a smartphone, Google Glass offered a solution,

The CopTrax program doesn't just stream video, but also tracks the location of the officer while either in and out of a vehicle. This is something Switzer said can be an invaluable life-saving tool.

"To have the added ability to know exactly where in real-time, at all times where your officer is -- not just where his car is, but where he is as an individual -- is huge," he said. "If an officer gets out of his car, gets into a foot pursuit and is chasing someone out into a field and gets shot or hurt; to be able to know this is exactly the officer is, we have always felt like that is a lifesaving type of technology that needed to be made available to the average officer."

Working With Google Glass

The first step in integrating CopTrax into Google Glass was finding an expert that could help. Stalker reached out to Dr. Thad Starner, who is the Director of the Contextual Computing Group at Georgia Tech and is also a Technical Lead/Manager on Google's Project Glass. The company then began working directly with Georgia Tech.

Since the devices aren't currently available to the public, only a limited number of them were made available to developers, and Georgia Tech had 20 of them.

The university assisted in porting the CopTrax phone application to the Google Glass platform. Since the university isn't very far from one of CopTrax's customers -- the Byron Police Department -- the plan was made to test the devices in the field.

"We wanted to know if this would be a solution that would really provide a good way to know exactly where the officer is and to stream video and record his movements."

The field test was performed on Sept. 13 as Sgt. Eric Ferris and K-9 Cpl. Clay Fauquier were outfitted with Google Glass while running the CopTrax application.

The Field Trial

From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. that Friday while on duty, Ferris and Fauquier -- traveling in separate units -- responded to calls, initiated traffic stops, underwent firearms training and made the first known arrest using Google Glass.

"We're a pretty technology-based department," Ferris, who normally wears a lapel-mounted body camera while on duty, said. "We try to strive to use new technology."

He said that wearing the Google Glass wasn't a hindrance and that he preferred the setup to the device he would usually be wearing while on duty.

"It was actually pretty interesting the way that it works because you can see what your camera is looking at in Glass," he said. "When I'm looking in a vehicle -- looking at an occupant's hands or see what appears to be evidence in plain sight -- I can adjust my head accordingly to make sure I get it captured on the Glass. That was a pretty neat concept."

Fauquier agreed and added that with limited training, he was able to use the system with relative ease.

"It looks pretty cumbersome, but actually, after you wear it for a little bit, you hardly notice that you have it on. It's very light, it's not uncomfortable at all and it doesn't obstruct your vision," he said.

"We did get some strange looks on a couple of calls we went to and on a couple of traffic stops, but most of the traffic stops I think, of course the violators were more concerned with getting ticketed or going to jail rather than what we had on our faces."

During the arrest, which was made by both of the officers, Ferris' license plate scanner flagged a vehicle for expired registration. He made the stop, Fauquier arrived to provide backup and the female driver was ultimately arrested on an outstanding warrant for a violation of probation.

The emotion showed by the woman on the video was real, and was shown at eye level, with much better resolution than it would normally be captured in. Both officers said that the deopth of non-verbal information conveyed by those pulled over that day was apparent upon reviewing the footage.

Future of Google Glass for L.E.

Switzer said that the more his team has interacted with the devices, they have believed more and more that when they hit the open market sometime next year, it won't be a fad.

"This is really going to be something that I believe in the next few years a large percentage of the population is going to be wearing," he said. "It's just a really cool way to use smartphone technology without having to tangibly touch the device."

They were initially wary of the idea of officers wearing the device while driving due to the possibility of being distracted, but soon discovered that because of the way the heads-up display is positioned, users can easily divert their attention from it. The display is outside of a person's field of view, closer to the top of the rim of a pair of glasses, requiring the user to roll their eyes upward to see it.

"One of the things both of the officers commented on was how it did not seem to distract them in any way when they were driving or when they were using their firearm," Switzer said. "You can't see the display unless you purposely direct your gaze and look up at the screen. That was something we were pleasantly surprised with in Glass."

Ferris said that Google Glass is something he could definitely see himself wearing fulltime, and that it could be beneficial for other officers as well.

"I love cameras," he said. "The more cameras I have on me, the better I am. We get so many false allegations out here nowadays. Whether they are founded or unfounded -- the camera isn't going to lie."

Lt. Bryan Hunter, who supervised the field trial, said that is why video footage is becoming so important for law enforcement.

"With technology today and the way television shows show their version of how things work; juries expect the same from us," he said. "The more evidence we have, the better off we are prosecuting cases and defending ourselves from lawsuits."

Fauquier said that in training videos shown in the academy of traffic stops turned bad, the only view you see is from the cruiser's dashboard camera. He feels that a device like Google Glass could give officials extra information in dire situations.

"You never lose that point of view. You have everything right there, right in front of you," he said.

"You think about the amount of officers who are injured or even killed in the line of duty on a yearly basis, and sometimes you have a hard time identifying the suspect. With that camera on, that person in that vehicle, they're not concerned about what kind of sunglasses you're wearing; they want to get out of there. But more times than not, I feel like you would have footage of the individual who committed that crime."