The Byron, Ga., police department found that Google Glass eyewear did not interfere with patrol duties.
It sounds like something out of a science fiction film: Cops wearing Google Glass―cameras built into what look like normal pairs of eyeglasses―capturing real-time video as they drive, make traffic stops, arrest suspects and even fire their weapons. However, it’s not sci-fi: Under “Operation Futuristic Police Officer,” Stalker Radar spearheaded the integration of its CopTrax in-car video recording solution and Google Glass, with the help of the Byron, Ga., Police Department.
“We started using CopTrax in 2013,” said Lieutenant Bryan Hunter, the patrol commander for the Byron Police Department. “We were called by Robert Watson with CopTrax, and he asked if we would be willing to help them do a one-day field study using Google Glass integrated into CopTrax.”
GOOGLE GLASS ON THE STREET
BPD Sergeant Eric Farris and Corporal Clay Fauquier worked with CopTrax and engineers from Georgia Tech to see how well the CopTrax system would work when fed wirelessly by Google Glass’ cameras. The test was staged in Byron on Sept. 13, 2013, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The video captured by the cameras was fed to the CopTrax software program running on the officers’ patrol car laptop computer.
“CopTrax does this rather than using a standalone digital video recorder; allowing the video to be streamed real-time to remote viewers via the car’s wireless data connection,” said Bill Switzer, a product manager with CopTrax. “It can also be viewed on an Android smartphone/tablet, using CopTrax’s Android app.”
The BPD officers put the combined Google Glass/CopTrax systems through four specific tests, all of which occurred as part of their shift that day. First, they conducted a normal vehicle patrol while wearing Google Glass. Second, they performed several actual traffic stops. Third, the officers made an arrest while wearing the glasses, and fourth, they fired their service pistols and patrol rifles to see if Google Glass interfered with their targeting accuracy.
“Google Glass was not an impairment at all,” said Sgt. Ferris. “You don’t even know it’s on.”
The glasses didn’t cause any issues during traffic stops, or when entering or exiting the car.
Wearing Google Glass caused no problems or interference during the unplanned arrest; it didn’t limit the officers’ ability to restrain the suspect and there are major benefits to the officers when using such systems.
“Recording video from the officer’s point of view could be helpful if questions about the circumstances of the arrest are raised,” Cpl. Fauquier said.
As for shooting while wearing Google Glass?
“We fired an H&K UMP 9mm full auto with a red dot sight system, and we had no problem acquiring the target,” said Ferris. “Engaging the target in full auto, the vibration or recoil of the weapon didn’t bother the optics of the Google Glass…and I was able to get a clear sight picture.”
CopTrax proved that pairing an in-car video recording system with wearable tech like Google Glass truly works, and not just for officers in the field.
“Google Glass works great being paired to the CopTrax Android app,” said Lt. Hunter, who supervised the Sept. 13 field test. “Being able to see the same thing the officer sees at the same time is awesome.”
The only downsides are related to the current design of Google Glass, rather than any issues with CopTrax. The unit’s limited battery life is an issue, according to Hunter.
“I can see the difficulty in getting longer battery life into a small package,” Hunter said. “The only other problem I see is Google Glass being for the right eye only. For people that are left eye dominant like myself, I couldn’t use Google Glass.”
Nevertheless, “We haven’t ruled out the possibilities of using Google Glass with our CopTrax systems,” he said. “We are always looking for tools to help make our job easier and to be more productive.”
NOT A LOW-RES CAMERA AND VCR ANYMORE
The CopTrax solution is part of a new wave of advanced in car-video systems that are as far ahead of traditional low-res video cameras and trunk-mounted VCRs as modern 4G smartphones are ahead of rotary-dial telephones.
Today’s in-car video systems offer HD quality video recording plus audio―some using the officers’ smartphones to capture/transmit conversations when out of the car―in super-small, ruggedized packages. Add the ability to integrate these systems to a modern patrol car’s broadband connections, and the live video can be viewed remotely as needed—with the added benefit of the car’s physical location being tracked by GPS and transmitting in real time.
CopTrax is one such system. Normally, it uses a small forward-facing camera that looks out of the front windshield, and a low-light/night vision (with infrared illuminators) rear-seat camera to keep an eye on prisoners and their actions.
“We’ve done away with DVRs by using the car’s laptop both to host our software platform and to store the video,” said CopTrax’s Bill Switzer. “Not only does this save money by leveraging storage that the officer already has at hand, but it allows the video to be transmitted and accessed via the car’s broadband connection. So you end up with less equipment to buy and maintain, and more functionality/remote accessibility at the same time.”
CopTrax can also transfer its video via commercial wireless (3G/4G) or WiFi, depending on the wireless route selected by the department.
The CopTrax Android app makes it easy for remote viewers to tap into the officers’ live camera feeds, and also doubles as a handy tool for officers wanting to review footage after the fact. The CopTrax system also transfers data to cloud-based servers for secure storage and easy access anywhere, through a password-protected Web browser.
Coban Technologies’ Fusion HD system is an ultra-compact video/audio capture and digital video recorder system designed specifically for law enforcement. With the exception of the Fusion HD removable wireless body microphone―intended to be worn by officers as they do their jobs―the whole unit is built into a neat package that mounts on the patrol car’s front passenger visor.
Coban Technologies Fusion HD Recorder
“Each system comes with the DVR, which has two built-in cameras―HD camera and snapshot camera―built-in microphone receiver, built-in speakers, built-in touch screen monitor, built-in 64 GB solid-state internal drive, removable 64 GB drive, backseat microphone and a body microphone,” said David Hinojosa, Coban Technologies’ senior vice president of marketing and business development. “Fusion captures event-based [triggered] videos in the vehicle. After each stop, videos are tagged based on event type.”
Back at the station, the officer unlocks the Fusion’s removable media and plugs it into any available networked computer for downloading.
“Videos can be stored on the agency’s existing server/workstation, or Coban can provide storage options,” Hinojosa said. “Coban also provides C3 (Coban Command Center) software to manage videos, users and vehicles.”
Despite its elegant styling and small form factor, Fusion is tough. In fact, it meets Mil Spec 810G standards. As well, the unit’s built-in 64 GB acts as a fail-safe backup for the removable 64 GB storage media.
Digital Ally makes a range of in-car (DVM series) and wearable (FirstVu) video camera/recording systems. The company also makes the waterproof DV-440Ultra; a display-included camera/recording unit that can mount on motorcycles, ATVs and boats. Digital Ally’s in-car systems are notable for incorporating the video display into a special rear-view mirror, which replaces the stock mirror in patrol cars.
Digital Ally DVM Chase Recorder
“We offer several in-car video options so that each department can select which system fits their specific needs and budget,” said Greg Dyer, Digital Ally’s national sales manager.
The company’s top end in-car video system, the DVM-800, can support up to eight cameras―each with their own activation triggers―with only two feeds being recorded at any given time to save storage space. It has G-force and other sensors that automatically start incident recordings, plus a constant loop for later discovery needs.
“[Our VuLink software] allows the FirstVu HD officer-worn video system to be automatically activated like an in-car video system,” Dyer said. “It can be used as such, or used in conjunction with an in-car video system by starting both systems simultaneously and linking the recordings into an incident in the back-office software.”
Digital Ally’s recorders can be linked to in-car broadband connections to support live streaming and remote video viewing.
MORE INFO Coban Technologies: www.cobantech.com
Digital Ally: www.digitalallyinc.com
Google Glass: www.google.com/glass/start
THE BOTTOM LINE
The in-car video systems sold by Coban Technologies, Digital Ally and Stalker Radar (CopTrax) underline just how advanced, flexible, and functional these HD products have become. Moreover, the price-points of entry-level in-car video systems―staring at $1,000 for Digital Ally, for instance―put them within reach of departments large and small.
With police departments in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other large cities considering ways to use Google Glass, that too may be common for police in the near future. Law enforcement is about to enter into a new era in documenting its every interaction with the public, and it’s going to be an interesting time.