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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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Rain, Telkom Mobile, lead in affordable data

A new report by the telecoms regulator in South Africa reveal the true consumer champions in mobile data costs

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The latest bi-annual tariff analysis report produced by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) reveals that Telkom Mobile data costs for bundles are two-thirds lower than those of Vodacom and MTN. On the other hand, Rain is half the price again of Telkom. 

The report focuses on the 163 tariff notifications lodged with ICASA during the period 1 July 2018 to 31 December 2018.

“It seeks to ensure that there is retail price transparency within the electronic communications sector, the purpose of which is to enable consumers to make an informed choice, in terms of tariff plan preferences and/or preferred service providers based on their different offerings,” said Icasa.

ICASA says it observed the competitiveness between licensees in terms of the number of promotions that were on offer in the market, with 31 promotions launched during the period. 

The report shows that MTN and Vodacom charge the same prices for a 1GB and a 3GB data bundle at R149 and R299 respectively.  On the other hand, Telkom Mobile charges (for similar-sized data bundles) R100 (1GB) and R201 (3GB). Cell C discontinued its 1GB bundle, which was replaced with a 1.5GB bundle offered at the same price as the replaced 1GB data bundle at R149. 

Rain’s “One Plan Package” prepaid mobile data offering of R50 for a 1GB bundle remains the most affordable when compared to the offers from other MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) and MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators).  

“This development should have a positive impact on customers’ pockets as they are paying less compared to similar data bundles and increases choice,” said Icasa.

The report also revealed that the cost of out-of-bundle data had halved at both MTN and Vodacom, from 99c per Megabyte a year ago to 49c per Megabyte in the first quarter of this year. This was still two thirds more expensive than Telkom Mobile, which has charged 29c per Megabyte throughout this period (see graph below).

Meanwhile, from having positioned itself as consumer champion in recent years, Cell C has fallen on hard times, image-wise: it is by far the most expensive mobile network for out-of-bundle data, at R1.10 per Megabyte. Its prices have not budged in the past year.

The report highlights the disparities between the haves and have-nots in the dramatically plummeting cost of data per Megabyte as one buys bigger and bigger bundles on a 30-day basis (see graph below).

For 20 Gigabyte bundles, all mobile operators are in effect charging 4c per Megabyte. Only at that level do costs come in at under Rain’s standard tariffs regardless of use.

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Qualcomm wins 5G as Apple and Intel cave in

A flurry of announcements from three major tech players ushered in a new mobile chip landscape, wrItes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Last week’s shock announcement by Intel that it was canning its 5G modem business leaves the American market wide open to Qualcomm, in the wake of the latter winning a bruising patent war with Apple.

Intel Corporation announced its intention to “exit the 5G smartphone modem business and complete an assessment of the opportunities for 4G and 5G modems in PCs, internet of things devices and other data-centric devices”.

Intel said it would also continue to invest in its 5G network infrastructure business, sharpening its focus on a market expected to be dominated by Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson.

Intel said it would continue to meet current customer commitments for its existing 4G smartphone modem product line, but did not expect to launch 5G modem products in the smartphone space, including those originally planned for launches in 2020. In other words, it would no longer be supplying chips for iPhones and iPads in competition with Qualcomm.

“We are very excited about the opportunity in 5G and the ‘cloudification’ of the network, but in the smartphone modem business it has become apparent that there is no clear path to profitability and positive returns,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan. “5G continues to be a strategic priority across Intel, and our team has developed a valuable portfolio of wireless products and intellectual property. We are assessing our options to realise the value we have created, including the opportunities in a wide variety of data-centric platforms and devices in a 5G world.”

The news came immediately after Qualcomm and Apple issued a joint announced of an agreement to dismiss all litigation between the two companies worldwide. The settlement includes a payment from Apple to Qualcomm, along with a six-year license agreement, and a multiyear chipset supply agreement.

Apple had previously accused Qualcomm of abusing its dominant position in modem chips for smartphones and charging excessive license fees. It ordered its contract manufacturers, first, to stop paying Qualcomm for the chips, and then to stop using the chips altogether, turning instead to Intel.
With Apple paying up and Intel pulling out, Qualcomm is suddenly in the pound seats. It shares hit their highest levels in five years after the announcements.

Qualcomm said in a statement: “As we lead the world to 5G, we envision this next big change in cellular technology spurring a new era of intelligent, connected devices and enabling new opportunities in connected cars, remote delivery of health care services, and the IoT — including smart cities, smart homes, and wearables. Qualcomm Incorporated includes our licensing business, QTL, and the vast majority of our patent portfolio.”

Meanwhile, Strategy Analytics released a report on the same day that showed Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia will lead the market in core 5G infrastructure, namely Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment, by 2023 as the 5G market takes off. Huawei is expected to have the edge as a result of the vast scale of the early 5G market in China and its long term steady investment in R&D. According to a report entitled “Comparison and 2023 5G Global Market Potential for leading 5G RAN Vendors – Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia”, two outliers, Samsung and ZTE, are expected to expand their global presence alongside emerging vendors as competition heats up.

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