Later this year, Google is set to release Google Glass, a compact, head-mounted computer system that superimposes information and graphics over the wearer’s field of view.
These could wind up being a useful tool for street cops when the technology is more mature.
There is already an application of Google Goggles that uses conventional computers and smartphones to compare images against the massive Google database and display any relevant information Google has found about the object on display.
This addition of data to a visual display is called “augmented reality.” It’s not unlike the view that the movies showed RoboCop and the Terminator to have, where data was superimposed over whatever they saw. It was science fiction when those movies came out. It’s real (not augmented) reality now.
Here are three ways officers may be able to use such technology in the future:
1. ID gangbangers
When you encounter your neighborhood gangbanger on patrol. The device can run the face against faces stored in the gang information database, display for you his true and street name, affiliation, and criminal history, and tell you immediately if he has any outstanding warrants or a probation tail.
2. Driver's licenses
Mobile data from your computer can be passed directly to the head-worn display. Hold up a driver’s license barcode, and the system will read it, send the inquiry on its status to the state database, and display the information return.
With a voice command, you can have the demographic information, location, and license plate data entered into a citation form, all ready for addition of the violation and printing out of the hard copy.
3. Stream video to backup officers
The system can double as a body-worn recorder, activating with a voice command or automatically when you get out of your squad, and storing the data on the attached smartphone. In an emergency, it can stream the video to responding backup officers or back to dispatch to give those personnel a first-person view of what you’re dealing with.
Futuristic as this may sound, technology like this is either already here on coming imminently. Some refinement is needed to make it reliable, durable and comfortable, but anyone who has monitored the progression of the cell phone industry over the past ten years or so can see how long it takes to go from “gee whiz” to on the shelf at Best Buy.
You can already buy a bulkier head-worn computer, one that already has police-type applications. PoliceOne reported on the Golden-I headset computer in 2011 and the first iteration of Google Glasses in 2012.
Ikanos Consulting now offers the Police Pro application for the Golden-i. The software is capable of calling up and displaying modules for facial recognition, floor plans and maps, alerts from motion sensors, and for monitoring the wearer’s vital signs. Similar applications are under development for firefighters and EMS personnel.
Good design is clearly critical in the speed and likelihood of widespread adoption of this technology. The Golden-I is a remarkable device, but it makes the wearer look like they were assimilated by The Borg.
It wouldn’t likely stay in place in a fight or foot pursuit, and not many agencies are willing to put equipment this expensive in the field where it will be dropped and damaged. It’s got to be reduced to a more manageable and comfortable size.
That will happen. Cell phones used to be the size of cinder blocks; now they’re smaller than a pack of cards and do more than desktop computers of the same era. My bet is that you’ll see these on the street within five years.
About the author
Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.
He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.
Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.
Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.