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Homewhats workingGoogle Glass's unlikely testers: Your local cops

Google Glass’s unlikely testers: Your local cops

Sgt. Eric Ferris of the Byron, Ga., police department recently added to his usual law-enforcement duties the role of cutting-edge gadget reviewer. In his review, Ferris said the new technology didn't obscure his vision while driving or shooting, but it did result in "some funny looks and faces" from the public. Those funny looks should increase across the U.S. as local police forces are outfitted with wearable devices, including Google Glass, the techy eyewear that stupefied Byron's residents.

The Axon Flex is a tiny camera that can be placed anywhere on an officer's body.Source: Taser International

The select group of "Explorers" chosen by Google in 2013 to test its much-hyped Glass included some not-so-surprising choices: people with big Twitter followings; tech-sector bloggers; app CEOs, like Foursquare's Dennis Crowley; celebrities, including actor Neil Patrick Harris and Levar Burton (who wore another kind of Glass in Star Trek Next Generation); and even politicians, including Newt Gingrich.

While the nation's toughest cops might seem an unlikely group to be among the Google Glass testers—in fact, a woman in San Diego was even pulled over by a San Diego cop in October and ticketed for wearing Google Glass while driving—software developers are aiming to make the wearable tech a must-have for cops.

Flaunting their offerings at the 2013 International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Philadelphia, a handful of companies are configuring Google Glass to allow officers to do things like stream video of car stops and incidents back to headquarters as they're happening, receive audible alerts that they're entering an area with a possible crack house or terrorist location, and see information—photos, arrest histories, addresses—in Glass's heads-up display.

"To be able to record what's happening in real time is something we think is very important," said Bill Switzer, video product manager at CopTrax, the Plano, Texas–based developer of in-car and body-worn video and GPS tracking solutions that collaborated with engineers at Georgia Tech to fit two Google Glass headsets with its software. CopTrax, a division of speed-measurement equipment company Applied Concepts, recently outfitted two police officers in Byron with the contraption to see how the tech fared during a daylong shift of routine traffic stops, an arrest and the firing of service weapons at a range.

The new technology didn't obscure vision … but it did result in 'some funny looks and faces.'Sgt. Eric Ferris, Byron, Ga., police department,on being one of the first police officers to wear Google Glass

Walking the wearable beat
"Overall, with the ideals that were thrown around, [Google Glass] could be a very valuable asset, especially in the areas of officer safety," Sgt. Ferris said in a video interview with CopTrax.

The key phrase is "could be." Applications for wearable devices in the workforce are a microcosm of the wearable revolution: in a nascent stage when it comes to smart, wearable electronics. Even Glass hasn't yet fully arrived. Google has been expanding its roster of "Explorers" on a limited basis but doesn't plan on a wider rollout of Glass until sometime next year, leaving developers like CopTrax in limbo until they can acquire more headsets.

Gartner analyst Angela McIntyre predicts that a broad array of heart-rate and activity monitors integrated into clothing, helmets, headsets or wristbands will one day allow tactical officers to be observed as they perform dangerous or stressful missions. Wrist-worn computers, like Eurotech's Zypad WR 11—a watertight PC that can withstand hazardous conditions–are already worn by soldiers, first responders and fieldworkers and could someday supplement or replace in-car laptops. And on-body video cameras, the one piece of wearable tech that's been used by cops for about five years, will continue to proliferate.

Undeniably the hottest sector in cop wearable tech, body-worn cameras will pull in $3 million to $5 million in global revenue this year, according to Gartner. That number will jump to between $30 million and $50 million in the U.S. alone in less than five years "if early deployments of wearable cameras meet the needs of the officers and their departments," McIntyre said.

Historically, these miniature video cameras look nothing like the souped-up versions used by science fiction cops in Hollywood movies. Clipped to an officer's lapel, belt or shirt pocket, the tiny cams aim to protect officers from unfounded complaints and reduce police misconduct—the cameras' contents are loaded automatically to a server back at headquarters. It's a response, in part, to the rise of smartphone use among the public and the amateur documentary filmmaker in everyone.

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