10-43: Be Advised...
with Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief
New TASER AXON Body on-officer camera hits the streets
AXON Body is cost effective ($399 per unit), compact (one piece, no wires), and captures near-HD quality video
Sponsored by TASER International
It has become pretty-widely accepted that the body-worn video camera will eventually become standard equipment for just about every American police officer.
Law enforcement body-worn video cameras can reduce false complaints against officers and frivolous lawsuits against agencies. The Rialto (Calif.) Police/Cambridge University study shows an even deeper impact as it reduced use of force nearly 60 percent. Their mere presence improves the behavior of all participants during police interactions, and by accurately capturing video from the officer’s perspective, supervisors can review incidents and know for certain what really happened.
Although officers and administrators alike are recognizing these benefits — as well as increased officer efficiency, enhanced officer safety, and more effective criminal prosecution — the technology is not yet universally accepted. In nearly any group of officers discussing body-worn video, there will likely be one naysayer.
The top three arguments against the technology seem to be variations of the following:
1.) It’s too costly to outfit every officer with a video camera
2.) It’s too cumbersome to wear (on my head or elsewhere)
3.) The video quality isn’t good enough to be effective in court
Enter, TASER AXON Body
The engineers at TASER International think they’ve solved all three of those problems — as well as a few others — with the introduction of a new body-worn video camera for law enforcement. Called the TASER AXON Body, the new product now hitting the streets is cost effective ($399 per unit), compact (one piece, no wires), and captures high-quality video.
Like its close cousin, the TASER AXON Flex, development of the AXON Body is the result of feedback TASER gathered directly from law enforcement personnel. This is what the folks at TASER call “Voice of Customer” — or VOC — and one can point to a variety of improvements that have been added to new generations of TASER products as a direct result of the company’s relationship with both existing and potential customers.
One of the challenges for TASER engineers was putting all of the components found in the original version of the Flex into the same form-factor of just the belt-worn battery pack of the device. The camera and storage elements of the Flex are by no means large, but space had to be made, and somehow they pulled it off beautifully.
One of the key elements to the AXON Body design is the integrated wide-angle lens which somehow doesn’t distort the images being recorded. The 130-degree fish-eye lens is capable of capturing extraordinarily-sharp video (resolution is 640x480) which rivals that which people — read: potential jurors — are accustomed to seeing on their television screens at home.
When you look at the Flex and the Body side by side, you can see how one generation influenced the creation of the next. Like the Flex, the Body has multiple mounting options: Velcro, belt clip, shirt clip, even an in-car windshield clip. Like the Flex, the Body leverages the benefit of “cloud computing” for storage, management, and secure sharing of video evidence at EVIDENCE.com.
Like the Flex, the Body has a long battery life — as much as 12 hours, according to TASER— and between four and 12 hours of recording time (depending on bitrate setting).
Finally, like the Flex, the Body has the 30-second, pre-event buffer video capture capability. This means the camera can “reach back” and record to the device memory everything that happened within the camera’s eye for the 30 seconds before the officer hit the “record” button. The buffer only saves the video portion and not the audio to protect private conversations prior to the start of the recording. This is vital because when an offender decides to create a situation in which some force option is necessary on the part of the officer, the offender’s actions are captured.
As is the case with most bystander cell-phone videos, only the officer’s actions are seen — not the preliminaries which led up to them.
A Disruptive Move
“I believe this is the first time that a major company in law enforcement has pulled a truly disruptive move like this,” said TASER International CEO Rick Smith.
Smith explained that there are really two reasons that police gear tends to be expensive. The first is that police equipment needs to be rugged. Making products that won’t easily break is costlier than making cheap, flimsy products. There’s only so much you can do to contain that part of the equation.
But “police stuff” is also expensive because for just about every category of gear, the market is fragmented between a certain number of vendors. For example, if all five vendors in a given category of products — let’s say it’s radios — get an equal share of the market, each company has to base projected profitability (and consequently its product’s price) on winning just 20 percent of the available customers.
This is where TASER’s strategy is completely disruptive. The bulk of the body-worn video camera market is in the $900 range per unit (including TASER’s own AXON Flex). The AXON Body is one third of the average cost of a competitive product.
“We’re selling this marginally above cost. The decision we made here was to not price this to be profitable if we only win a small portion of the market. Let’s make the pricing so compelling — selling it near cost — that we’re targeting to effectively get a hundred percent of the market.”
The strategy is genius. Further, in other market sectors, it’s proven to be extremely effective.
“It’s a little bit reminiscent of what Amazon has been doing with its Kindle, selling it just above cost. Customers don’t have to use Amazon content on it, but the fact is they will find the Amazon experience on it so compelling that they end up consuming Amazon services.”
Smith and his team at TASER think the same will hold true with their new entry into the body-camera space. Officers and agencies won’t have to use EVIDENCE.com — video files can be download locally to a PC quite effectively — but the company is betting that the vast majority of users will find the EVIDENCE.com service so much more cost effective and easy to use than building and maintaining their own evidence management system, they’ll choose to use EVIDENCE.com.
“They don’t have to buy EVIDENCE.com. It’s not like they’re locked in, or ‘stuck with us’ — they can use these cameras as a stand-alone product — but we’re making the bet that we’re going to earn their business. The other piece is that we’re making the bet that at this price point we can hit economies of scale in manufacturing that will drive down our cost,” Smith added.
See For Yourself
In a sense, the creation of a body-worn version of the AXON Flex was almost inevitable. After all, the “Flex” was thusly named for its flexibility.
When most people think of the AXON Flex, they think of that iconic pair of Oakley glasses. While that’s a terrific way of mounting it, the Flex can be worn in a variety of different positions — the brim of a hat, for example, or even the epaulet or collar of a shirt.
Putting all the components into a single, streamlined package that can be snapped to the officer’s belt is a logical evolution in the TASER product line.
TASER released a video (see above) in which they did a side-by-side comparison of the new AXON Body and another body-worn camera available to police. Check it out and post your thoughts in the comments area below.