Vendors Innovate Beyond Standard Body-Worn Camera Technology
Tuesday, October 27, 2015 | Comments
When Arizona-based nMode Solutions began developing a body-worn camera, staff reached out to friends and family in law enforcement. Throughout those conversations, they heard similar themes.

“A lot of them said that a lot of the cameras on the market just don’t work very well right now, and when they do, (the officers) don’t really want to use them because it’s a retroactive system that won’t save lives,” Tim Mobley, nMode director, said.

In developing its FIO STREAM camera, nMode took that feedback to heart and focused on creating a camera that would be proactive instead of reactive.

Talk about the potential benefits of body-worn cameras and other wearable technology to law enforcement officers and their communities exploded across the country last year following several high-profile incidents in which white officers shot and killed unarmed black suspects.

In December, President Barack Obama announced a plan for policing reform that included $75 million for body-worn cameras. He also created the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing to offer suggestions on police reform.

In its report to the president, the task force acknowledged that cameras could be a useful tool for law enforcement agencies, but cautioned that organizations need to address several issues, such as the impact on citizens’ privacy.

As the conversation around body-worn cameras continues to swirl, vendors are innovating beyond standard body-camera technology and creating other synergistic devices to better fit the needs of first responders.

Streaming Video
nMode’s FIO STREAM is one such project. Currently in early-phase product development, the camera will have the ability to automatically activate and live stream data from a variety  of sensors, Mobley said.

Mobley offered the example of an officer who finds himself ambushed by one or more assailants. As the officer’s heart rate goes up, it triggers an alert that automatically activates the camera and begins live streaming video of the situation to a control center or other network user. A dispatcher can then watch the video and have a better understanding of what help and resources the officer needs.

This approach differs dramatically from a traditional camera, Mobley said, because it allows users to watch and use the video immediately. With a traditional body camera, users generally must download the video to another device or a computer before using or analyzing it, a process that can occur multiple hours or days after an incident.

In 2010, Mobley and several other engineers who worked on sensors and other systems for missiles left Raytheon and formed nMode. That experience, combined with broadcast video experience from other members on the company’s staff, provided the basis for the camera design.

The camera will use a custom-licensed frequency instead of Wi-Fi to stream video, providing strong video quality, Mobley said. “This is really broadcast-quality video.”

nMode hopes to have its first prototype ready sometime in November. From there, partner agencies and officers will test the prototype and offer feedback. The company hopes to finish that phase by December and, if the feedback is good, launch the product early next year.

Wearable Gateway
The Wearable Smart Gateway (WSG), another device aimed at streaming video and other data from devices, came out of a partnership between Mutualink and Intel. The device features Intel’s Edison chip, designed to embrace the Internet of Things (IoT), and connects to a variety of devices including body cameras, bio sensors and robot controllers. The device features both wired and wireless connections.

To ensure the data’s security, the device streams data through a virtual private network (VPN) tunnel to an agency’s internal server, vehicle server, cloud database or other device, said Mike Wengrovitz, vice president of innovation for Mutualink.

The WSG allows users to transmit important data from an incident site while keeping their hands free, Wengrovitz said.

“The use of your hands as a firefighter or law-enforcement official is important,” Wengrovitz said. “Those hands are important.”

One issue facing many departments as they look to adopt body cameras and similar devices is when the camera should start and stop recording and how much discretion an officer should have over that recording. The WSG tackles that issue by allowing streaming to start in three different ways, Wengrovitz said.

First, the wearer can enable it and transmit the data. Second, someone in the control room can press a button to activate streaming. Third, a user can program the device to begin transmitting based on location.

The device tracks location either through GPS or beacons. During this year’s Urban Shield training exercises in California, Mutualink demonstrated the location capability with Bluetooth beacons. As first responders wearing the device reached the beacons, the WSG would latch onto the beacon’s location and begin streaming. Once the user moved away from the beacon, the device stopped transmitting. In addition to allowing automatic transmission, the location feature allows a control center to keep tabs on first responders’ locations, Wengrovitz said.

“We saw this as an opportunity to change the face of how public-safety communicates,” said Patrick Flynn, director of homeland and national security programs at Intel.

At the start of the development process, Intel facilitated a design-engineering phase where those involved in the project met with first responders to gain an understanding of their needs.

“We listened to them first and, in fact, we’re going back to the group of police and fire (personnel) we visited to show them what we’ve done and get feedback,” Wengrovitz said.

Although the device doesn’t currently support band 14, it was used on New Jersey’s Long Term Evolution (LTE) band 14 network. It connected to the network by connecting to other devices already on the network, Wengrovitz said. Intel plans to create a version of the chip that will allow band 14 support for the eventual rollout of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). The device is in the testing phase, and Mutualink hopes to launch it sometime in the first or second quarter of next year.

Sensors and P25
The XL-200P from Harris also works as an enabler of IoT but provides those capabilities through a Project 25 (P25) LMR radio. One model has LTE capabilities that allow for an LTE connection into a network. The radio supports both 700 MHz Verizon Wireless band 13 and FirstNet band 14, and the company hopes to add other network support in the future, said Dr. Dennis Martinez, chief technology officer (CTO) for Harris’ public-safety business.

The radio can serve as a hot spot that other devices, including body-worn cameras and sensors, can tether themselves to and use to connect to a network, allowing them to access and use applications.

Martinez said the company sees the IoT capability as beneficial to first responders in two ways. First, it enhances officer safety, by allowing the connection of many useful sensors, such as man-down sensors and the sensors on a firefighter’s oxygen tank. At recent trade shows, the company also demonstrated the capability with sensors on officers’ guns that trigger when a specific action, such as an officer drawing his weapon, occurs.

“We think all those sensors add to the safety of the officer,” Martinez said. “You can imagine any number of sensors that would be beneficial.”

While developing the radio, Harris performed a situational awareness study to see how first responders use data in their jobs. The study showed that many officers already leverage broadband devices, mostly personal smartphones, to perform their duties.

By providing broadband capabilities in a radio, Harris hopes to further help officers integrate and use data by providing them with access to more applications.

The company plans to release the LTE-capable version of the radio sometime next year.

Camera Speaker Mic
Other companies are looking at ways to streamline and minimize the number of devices worn by first responders. To this end, Motorola Solutions introduced the Smart Interface (Si) series body camera that is integrated with a remote speaker microphone.

“One of the common themes we kept hearing from our customers is, ‘We don’t want to put another device on the officer,’ ” Nathan Rowe, Motorola director of product management for intelligent public-safety solutions, said.

One major benefit of the integration is the resulting quality of the audio, Rowe said. Most body cameras only have the audio that they pick up from the immediate area, but the Si series allows users to pull the audio out into a separate track for listening.

A variety of microphones on the device provide strong noise-cancellation functions to ensure there is no interference between the functions and keep the audio loud and clear, said Ron Toth, senior manager of shared technology planning and operations.

The camera can also pull information such as channel, talk group and other metadata that users can then attach to the video.

The Si series comes in two models: the smaller Si 300 and the larger Si 500, which comes with a screen that displays the video in real time on the device. The screen can rotate 180 degrees to allow an individual being recorded to see the recording. In certain situations, this can provide more comfort to someone on the other side of the camera, Rowe said.

Motorola also introduced CommandCentral Vault, a cloud-based storage system for body-worn camera footage. One key feature is an auto-redaction option with an object tracking function that automatically tracks faces, license plates or other objects across a frame and allows for quick but accurate redaction of that particular object, Rowe said.

“We’ve had officers and agencies say it takes them hours to redact footage,” Toth said. “We don’t think that’s the way to go about it.”

The storage system is built on an Adobe platform that provides management tools, workflow options and customizable forms that can help reduce overhead and hours spent preparing videos for the public, Rowe said.

Motorola expects to begin shipping the camera and software sometime in the second quarter of next year.

Body Camera with PTT
With its Titan Body Camera division, BatteryJack also looked at giving the camera extra functionality and addressing storage issues. The Titan Body Camera comes with integrated push-to-talk (PTT) functionality and connects to most radios on the market.

“It works just like any other speaker microphone,” said Donny Sweeney, BatteryJack general manager.

The camera comes with a variety of wearing options depending on user preference. A shoulder holster allows users to wear the camera like a regular speaker microphone, and the picture aligns automatically no matter the position of the camera. So users can wear the camera the way they find most comfortable, including upside down, Sweeney said.

BatteryJack also introduced a body camera docking station that it hopes will help agencies better manage the large amount of data generated by the cameras. The dock holds up to 32 terabytes (TB) of data, or about 25,000 hours of video, and deletes videos marked as low importance every 90 days.

“Our system really helps keep only the footage that is necessary,” Sweeney said.

The terminal can accommodate up to 32 cameras and does not require additional storage fees beyond the original purchase, Sweeney said. “You’re never going to need anything else.”

Both the body camera and the storage terminal are currently available.



 
 
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Comments
On 10/28/15, Radio Randy said:
Another solution looking for a problem.
The body cams are doing exactly what they were intended to do. Live streaming is an unnecessary requirement as the cameras are there for evidence gathering, not security for the officer.
Just another massive waste of taxpayer money.

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