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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.