Editor's Note, Sept. 2015: CopTrax from Stalker Radar no longer offers the Google Glass or "Smart Glass" solution.
“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” — Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents,1899
Imagine what Duell would think about the Twenty-first Century. Anyone wandering the booths at a trade show such as IACP or APCO would see that innovation has just begun. Just prior to Duell’s time in office, the first police call box was installed in Washington DC. Now public safety dispatchers utilize complex hardware and software capable of locating callers and their officers. Technology is not slowing down. In fact as public-private partnerships continue to grow, law enforcement has so many more tools to help you do your jobs better and keep you safe. Included in these tools are wireless remote control, in-car video and body worn live stream cameras with GPS and analytic capabilities. This is just the beginning, as companies continue to strive to come up with the next best innovation to outfit officers of the future.
More than a garage door opener
Released in June 2013 at the Police and Security Expo, Code3 presented vLink, a wireless remote control technology for use with iPhone, Android and Windows smartphones, tablets and laptops. The product vLink is protected with a personal password and can be used from up to 300 feet away to control lights, siren and horn. It can also lock, unlock and open a door or hatch—is especially useful for K-9 officers. Code3 employees had run into wireless remote technology a few years back and they asked how else this technology could be used. “We had seen some people making remote spotlights and other remote key fobs for cars,” explains Vice President of Emergency Business and Marketing Kelly Kyriakos, Code3 Inc. “We wondered if we could design something to be used in the public safety market.”
The product is unique because of the ability to use it with both Code3’s equipment and competitors’ equipment. “vLink can be used with any smart phone and can be configured however the department wants," says Kyriakos. It doesn’t require an Internet connection due to its accompanying box which creates its own hotspot, a feature that makes it a desirable option for agencies struggling with Internet connection. “Any agency can use it no matter where they are located,” explains Kyriakos. A number of agencies around the U.S. are trying out vLink, including Philadelphia Police Department, Oldham County (Kentucky) Sheriff’s Office, Lagrange (Kentucky) Police Department and That’s My Truck, a company in Des Moines (Iowa) which upfits commercial fleet vehicles, including patrol cars.
Do you see what I see?
In-car video technology has been around for some time but it hasn’t stopped evolving. CopTrax from Stalker Radar is far from the bulky recorder and grainy video of the past. CopTrax provides in-car and body worn technology with GPS tracking, automatic vehicle location (AVL) technology as well as live streaming video. Video can either be stored on a local on-site server or in the cloud utilizing Microsoft’s Azure application.
The idea for CopTrax came from three Stalker Radar employees, including Bill Switzer, video production manager for Applied Concepts when they started working with the Office of Naval Research and Navy Seals. The collaborators envisioned technology that could track each Seal’s movements, stream video and provide GPS. “If you dropped them in Pakistan, you could see exactly where each one of them were in the compound and stream their video live from smartphone technology right off the shelf,” says Switzer. Looking towards new uses, Stalker Radar recognized this technology could be adapted to the law enforcement market. “It can be used both for body armor and laptops in the car,” he says. “You will know the GPS location of that car in real time and you could record an event onto the laptop or you could stream the video live so a police officer or command could see exactly what was going on when he was responding to a mission critical call.”
With CopTrax, any event can be programmed as a trigger to start the video, such as activating the light bar, exceeding a certain speed or keying the microphone. “Ninety-seven percent of all allegations where there is video attached, the police officer is found not guilty and exonerated so it is so important to protect officers’ careers,” Switzer explains. The GPS is an important safety feature as well. “It’s important to be able to know where your officer is at any point in time,” states Switzer. “We save lives. We save careers.”
But what about body worn?
“In car video is great but I believe the two need to work in conjunction,” says Switzer. CopTrax utilizes the Android smartphone which can be worn on an officer’s chest. This is one of several body worn options that are currently on the market. Switzer thinks these are a good idea but believes the idea should be taken a step further. “Being placed on the officer’s chest was less than ideal,” he states. “The officer would be looking one way and their chest would be facing another way. You would have a lot of video not worth using. You wanted video from the officer’s eye level so you’re able to see exactly what the officer is seeing when you try to reconstruct an event.” Once again, innovators went a step further.
Enter Google Glass
Google Glass has been the talk of law enforcement technology circles since its debut. One of its only hardware innovations, Google-owned Motorola created a lens-less eyeglass frame housing a computer. “We at Motorola want to solve problems customers have,” explains Senior Marketing Manager Alán Lopez. “What we believe is there is going to be more of a network of body worn devices that an officer could interact with in a number of different ways. It could include glasses, a wristband, a visor in a helmet or sensors integrated into a vest, uniform, or belt. A whole system of sensors and user worn devices.” Although the idea of Google Glass being used in the field excited many law enforcement personnel, Motorola’s demonstrations at IACP and APCO 2013 were more to show how a camera located in a body worn device could work. “You could capture license plates and carry it back to analytics,” explains Lopez. “It showed how you could get the information in a hands-free way. Those same devices can change concepts.” The Google Glass concept is helping Motorola develop more applications rather than hardware. Regardless, innovators wanted to see what would happen in the field. Working with Dr. Thad Starner, a pioneer in augmented reality, and Georgia Tech, Stalker Radar was able to marry CopTrax with Google Glass.
Field test in Byron, Georgia
On September 13, 2013, Byron Police Department Sgt. Eric Ferris and K-9 Officer Corporal Clay Fauquier were outfitted with Google Glass while running the CopTrax application. For seven hours, the two officers were supervised in this field trial by Lt. Bryan Hunter and performed routine activities. “We took two guys who had never heard of Google Glass and said we want to put these weird things on our head all day and follow you around,” explained Switzer. “We’d like you to do normal things like traffic stops. We’d like to take you out to the gun range and have you fire your sidearm and long gun and these guys said great.” A couple of Georgia Tech professors got to go along for the ride as well. “We rode around all day and were able to get the footage of the first arrest, the first traffic stop and the first day of patrol. We have the first footage of them firing assault rifles and their Glock.” Afterwards, Switzer asked the officers what their impression was. Both officers agreed the technology did not impede them in any way even while firing their weapons, which was the biggest concern due to the need to site and recoil vibration. “We were able to get video that has never ever been captured,” says Switzer.
Although the technology coming out is impressive by itself, the companies mentioned here are less about individual products and more about moving into the future. “It will drive a lot of additional innovation,” says Kyriakos of Code 3. “People will use the smartphone for other things. People will wonder what a smartphone can potentially do. We’re pushing the envelope and someone else will push the envelope.” This continual innovation will produce even better tools for officers to use.
“There are lots of things officers do that we haven’t even thought of that we’ll get feedback on. We’ll be surprised about the uses it will have.” Switzer agrees. “The products coming out of the public area are better than the ones that are coming out of the specialty area for law enforcement.” In reference to Google Glass, he says, “There is a growing interest in using Google Glass as a body worn solution. There are a lot of questions: When is it coming out? How expensive will it be? Will it work with prescription glasses?”
Motorola’s response is they are focused on research. “We do not intend to sell Google Glass as a product,” says Lopez. “We’re working with it as a technological exploration. We intend to use our insights to refine how these applications work with these types of devices.” He states a public safety-type Google Glass would need to be developed by a third party and that there is quite a bit of work to be done before it could be used for public safety. “The device that a police officer will use will have to meet stringent use requirements.”
Although the Byron field test showed that it could be used and wasn’t a hindrance, Lopez has concerns. “The Google Glass might not fit a police officer today,” he states.
“There are always concerns in urgent situations that peripheral vision is free and there is nothing that will distract their eyesight.” Due to this, Motorola is focused more on the development of glasses and hands-free vision tools in non-urgent settings. Other companies are also developing Google Glass-type products for the commercial market.
“We really believe that the consumer technology market is moving so fast today that it really is incumbent on police agencies not just to keep up, but to leverage some of this technology to help them do their job and stay safe,” Switzer explains. “So to have not only video but GPS so you know where an officer is, is a life saving tool. That is something we feel very strongly about. If we can use a new technology like Google Glass to help save officers’ lives instead of just helping people check their Twitter feed, it’s even better.”
A final quote: “Any science or technology which is sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.” — Arthur C. Clarke.
With the innovative technology on the market today, especially items designed to whet the imagination, law enforcement is left with just a taste of the magic that could be, and an intense thirst for more innovation.