Published November 15, 2013
The Chief’s Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City set a world record last month for the loudest NFL stadium at a whopping 137 decibels – about equivalent to a jet engine. If a firearm went off during that game, chances are you probably wouldn’t have heard it.
Police have come a long way overcoming security concerns at monstrous gatherings with metal detectors and sleek surveillance cameras, but with crowds erupting in record-shattering roars, communication can still pose a problem.
Google's (GOOG) Motorola Mobility unit is seeking a patent for an electronic skin “tattoo” that it hopes will offer a solution.
The tattoo -- or adhesive sticker -- would be applied to a person’s throat and embedded with a microphone and transceiver that would virtually read the vibrations emanating from a person’s larynx.
It would enable wireless communication with third-party devices and cut out background noise, improving auxiliary voice input and helping officers, feasibly, to better catch perpetrators or control wild crowds at events like Times Square’s New Year’s Eve or in hubs like New York's Grand Central Station in the critical few seconds before and after a disaster.
“Communication can reasonably be improved and even enhanced with a method and system for reducing the acoustic noise in such environments and contexts,” Motorola said.
While still in the early patent stages and with no guarantee it will actually reach the point of development, the idea at least sets the stage for an intriguing future of wearables in law enforcement.
Field officers have already adopted Bluetooth technology and mobile devices, and there is talk of the most progressive forces one day using everything from intelligent glasses to drones to improve situational awareness and access real-time data.
Tech-Savvy Crime Stoppers
Motorola’s “tattoo” is one tiny innovation in a sea of emerging ones being designed to modernize police forces to better fight the bad guys. And now, technologists and police are working together to bring intelligent policing to new frontiers.
“Early technology adopters within the criminal justice system have netted significant benefits,” says Ger Daly, managing director of Accenture’s defense and public safety unit.
In September, police and tech executives gathered at the Microsoft New England center outside of Boston to discuss police innovation in a first-of-its-kind conference. The goal was to develop an “ambitious plan” that could be adopted by progressive agencies to modernize police forces.
Discussions ranged from drones and robots to 3D printing and wearable technology, with speakers ranging from MIT’s director of Humans and Automation Lab to homeland security and counterterrorism executives at Microsoft (MSFT).
“Those who choose to modernize have the smart tools at their disposal to help in the prevention and intervention of criminal activity,” Joseph Rozek, Microsoft’s executive director for homeland security and counterterrorism, said ahead of the conference.
With easier access to intelligence, police are better able to make real-time decisions and respond quicker in emergency situations, he said.
The novel conference also introduced the growing number of startups dedicated to improving public safety through technology, including Bounce Imaging, which makes a camera to be deployed in emergency situations to get real-time video feeds.
The New York Police Department as the nation’s most advanced police force keeps a tight lid on its security measures. But among its advanced equipment are helicopters that can detect radiation from the air, high-speed waterjets that can right themselves when capsized, scuba divers that can monitor air pockets under tunnels and a fleet of stealthy cameras and surveillance towers peppered along its busy streets.
Predictive technologies have also become a cornerstone of intelligence-driven policing, with Singapore now using technology from Accenture (ACN) to integrate advanced analytics into existing video monitoring systems to improve response time and predict crimes.
Several U.S. police agencies have reported decreased crime rates due to predictive technologies, and many now also use social media sites like Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) to gather evidence and tips.
Man vs. Machine
There are, of course, hesitancies to all of this advancement.
Innovation requires a lot of money first and foremost; and there is fear too much advancement will impact natural instincts, causing authorities to miss critical signs that fall, literally, under the radar.
In a recent article in The Atlantic Magazine, Nicholas Carr, the author of The Shallow and soon-to-be-released The Glass Cage, spoke of the fear that too much reliance on machines will impact human intuit.
Some deadly plane crashes, he argues, have been caused in part by pilots who seem to have forgotten how to fly amid an over-reliance on autopilot. He goes so far as to call the pilots of today computer operators.
That over-reliance could have serious ramifications for professions with key roles in public safety. However, technological advances have also done a great service, including foiling terrorist attacks and improving research and rescue missions.
It may take a few missteps, but police will eventually realize what works and what doesn’t, and public safety will likely be all the better for it. The innovation conference that married Silicon Valley with law enforcement was a solid first start.