Augmented Public Safety: AR Technology Gives Emergency Services Second Set of Eyes

July 27, 2018

Public safety departments are catching up with futuristic, augmented reality technology. Some people aren’t happy about it: for example, Microsoft is raising the alarm about facial recognition, wanting to regulate law enforcement use of the tech. However, there are cases where emergency services clearly serve their community better with augmented reality (AR). From training to response, here are three savvy AR public safety applications.

AR in Police Training

In Columbia, South Carolina, some law enforcement groups recreate their training in an abandoned tuberculosis sanitarium outside of town. The building is decrepit and haunting. Dark windows and mysterious creakings make it the perfect location for crisis recreation.

Law enforcement agencies around the world use this kind of “staged crisis” to train their people. However, it is becoming expensive, and difficult, to recreate everything an officer may encounter. As a result, police have turned to AR and VR scenario training.

With these software programs, recruits can encounter the physical stimuli of danger without ever leaving the room. VR headsets totally immerse officers in the projected world. Much like a video game, these programs allow officers to visit hostage situations, street gun battles and even snarling dogs. AR programs overlay data in these programs and those tools are used in real-world tech applications. Programs that identify forms in murky light, reveal suspect criminal history through facial recognition or even alert officers to nearby presences display within the officer’s field of vision.

Augmented Navigation in Aerial Support

The skies aren’t often treated as public spaces. However, our airways are monitored by trained officials, the FAA; moreover, they have been utilized in ground-support missions that ensure public safety. Pilots and controllers alike have been influenced by the trend to adopt AR in their tasks.

Ground support missions may include aerial supervision during a hostage crisis, tracking flames for firefighters on the lines of wildfires and spotting distress during natural disasters. Apps have been built to orient these aircraft in confusing situations. They also serve to add clarity from a bird’s eye view, which can be communicated to individuals on the ground. In wildfire fighting especially, AR apps serve to protect: their information helps pilots as they navigate mountainous terrain through murky clouds.

Augmented reality goes a step further when it comes to air traffic control. Airports around the world are using virtual control towers. The goal is to improve safety and reduce costs. These virtual towers use infrared cameras, specialized sensors and other data-gathering tools to enhance their traditional control methods. Removing manual parts of the process, such as looking up flight information which is now superimposed on the screen, improves attention to detail.

Augmented Mapping in Emergency Responses

Augmented mapping helps officers on the ground as well. However, this foot traffic-oriented technology may be more known in civilian applications than law enforcement. Tourism AR map app Blippar outlines where users need to walk and displays important points of interest. It even uses odometry to increase positioning accuracy.

However, the technology absolutely has a place in day to day law enforcement. When chasing suspects on foot, or investigating unfamiliar areas of town, officers can use enhanced vision of a city system to ensure personal safety as well as mission success. From correct turns to potential hide outs, the superimposed data can be used to improve accuracy.

For example, consider navigating the trail of a suspect after a house raid. A wrong direction from a map could turn the case cold. Worse, a too-soon turn could land the officer in a libelous position, accusing the wrong person of a crime when the real perpetrator is the next street up.

Of course, this technology also serves those responding to crisis in a supportive manner. Fire and rescue squads need intelligence about the locations they’re responding too just as much as police. Vehicles equipped with this type of interactive navigation can arrive faster to locations with real-time data updates about traffic, visuals of turns and other augmentation tools.