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Meet Futurecop, the VR policeman of tomorrow

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The policeman of tomorrow will probably not look like Robocop, but will share many of his abilities, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Aside from a history of infamous prisoners – Charles 1 and the Kray twins, for example – the Isle of Wight in the English Channel may not come to mind as a microcosm of the world of crime. Yet, its 140 000 inhabitants have provided the world with a fascinating insight into the future of policing.

Back in 2013, the Hampshire Constabulary, which polices the island, issued its officers with body-worn video (BWV) cameras. The University of Portsmouth was commissioned to study the consequences, and the startling results were released last year: only 1 out of 11 cases had led to arrests the year before the introduction of BWV; in the following year, 7 out of 10 camera footage cases led to arrests.

Arthur Goldstuck gets a virtual reality tour of the Command Centre of the future

Arthur Goldstuck gets a virtual reality tour of the Command Centre
of the future

It’s not only about nailing the perps: it also changes behaviour towards the police. Cases of violent threats to officers dropped by 44 per cent the year they were fitted with the gadgets.

These findings have added to the momentum for bringing BWV, car dash-cams, video analytics and similar tools into the heart of crime-fighting.

Now, it’s all about to be taken a few steps further into the future.

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At last week’s Critical Communications World conference in Amsterdam, Motorola Solutions unveiled its vision of the high-tech policeman of the next decade. And at the core of this vision is not hardware or software, but the sipple concept of “real-time”.

“Real time will have a massive impact on critical communications,” says Eduardo Conrado, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer at Motorola Solutions. “Our philosophy is to design for high-velocity
human impact, moments when there isn’t time to process a lot of information: moments of terror.”

Which brings us to the connected officer of 2025.

“The future is more about distributed capability, where the radio and smartphone don’t look like a radio or smartphone anymore, they are distributed across the body. It has the same functionality; it just doesn’t look like it.

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“In the next five years, we see the radio evolving into a collaborative device, with a personal area network – the radio, smartphone, smartwatch, and other devices all connected. Integrated power management becomes important, so you need wireless charging both in the office and in the vehicle.”

The following five years will see an even more dramatic shift, as Futurecop comes to resemble Robocop, while remaining completely human. The police car will become far more than just transport.

“As cars become smarter and dashboard displays larger, software and applications will be integrated into the vehicle, and the car becomes an extension of the officer. During a foot-chase, the officer is augmented by an airborne drone. The drone also becomes an extension of the command centre, not only capturing video from the air, but also running real-time analytics.

The policeman of tomorrow, equipped with smartglasses. PIC: Arthur Goldstuck

The policeman of tomorrow, equipped with smartglasses. PIC: Arthur Goldstuck

“If the officer pulls out a weapon, contextual information like accelerating heart rate and movement alerts the command centre to an emergency, and automatically alerts other units. The artificial intelligence built into the system immediately starts overlaying mapping information and starts routing vehicles to interception points.”

Finally, the history of what the officer saw and experienced is automatically shared with the team, and “paperwork” starts being generated automatically from the digitally recorded history. In 2016, this remains one of the biggest drains on police productivity. In 2026, it could happen seamlessly.

And finally, there is virtual reality.

“People say VR takes you away from the real world and takes you somewhere else,” says LanTing Garra, Innovation Design Director at Motorola Solutions. “But that’s exactly what we want to do with the command centre.

“Today it’s all about getting information from the field. That means the person in the command centre is trying to visualise the entire scene through verbal communications, and check in with the officer every two minutes. What if we can reduce all that communications, let the officers on the frontline focus on what they’re doing, but also bring the command centre into the scene?”

The idea is that the officer would be wearing smartglasses, while support staff in the command centre wear VR goggles that allow them to view the scene from the officer’s point of view as well as through 360 degree cameras mounted on cars and aerial cameras carried by drones.

New technology from a company called Eyefluence, in which Motorola Solutions’ venture capital arm invested last year, allows the command centre to navigate the virtual scene through eye tracking and interaction.

“The benefits are both simplified communication and incident immersion,” says Garra. “The incident commander can be on the scene with the location flexibility of a virtual presence, and shared situational awareness.”

The most remarkable aspect of this vision is that the technology already exists. The virtual command centre was demonstrated at Critical Communications World – and drew the crowds one usually sees at the unveiling of exciting new consumer technologies.

But going by the impact of the ancestors of this technology on the Isle of Wight, Futurecop could become as much a feature of our environment as the rest of the gadgets we take for granted today.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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