Handheld Technology

Motorola Sees Wearables, AR and More in Public Safety Future

The latest digital capabilities are likely to play a revolutionary role in all our lives and in countless ways - not just in business or among consumers but also in public safety where these breakthroughs have vast potential for sniffing out threats and snuffing them out. It might sound like something dreamed up in Hollywood but this new world of public safety will involve the most advanced software, wearable devices and augmented reality technologies, working alongside forensic analytics to provide police and other safety officers with the best chance possible of protecting citizens.

Motorola Solutions is at the heart of this change. The broader Motorola has been famous for many things from car radios and Apple Macintosh microprocessors to smartphones. Recent changes have included the 2011 sale of the phone group to Google which then sold on to Lenovo in 2014. Motorola Solutions this year agreed to sell its enterprise business unit to Zebra Technologies, leaving the company free to focus on the sensitive but fascinating area of public safety where it assists agencies and forces all over the world to do everything from ticketing and detaining terrorists to handling national emergencies and everyday police callouts.

I spoke to Paul Steinberg, the Chicago-based Motorola Solutions CTO and a 22-year veteran of the company, about the opportunities and challenges. Steinberg, an affable, enthusiastic man, is excited by the possibilities from what he sees as the fulcrum of all this: faster, more widely available broadband networks. This in turn will drive use of wearable computing, multimedia, machine learning, real-time analytics, biometrics and more.

There has been a change of pace in recent times with mobile device and cloud usage sharply up, he says, leading to a hyper-connected world, but one that is also experiencing exponential growth in security attacks. Part of the solution to this conundrum lies in using technology for “predictive policing”. For example, social media analytics might be used to anticipate crime and data mining can discover the likely sources of the next wave of threats. Meanwhile, sensors, pattern recognition and multimedia provide greater visibility and accelerate time to action.

Motorola Solutions wants to address these opportunities both organically through its own work but also via partnerships. Steinberg acknowledges that a company with a famous history in research and development might struggle with a Not Invented Here syndrome but he says Motorola Solutions is wide open to licensing and other collaborative efforts.

“The world is too far flung, diverse and capable to assume you can be an expert on everything to your customer,” he says. “Things move so fast. It’s a challenge, but that’s definitely a shift.”

An example: Steinberg is involved in the Motorola Solutions Venture Capital to identify interesting companies and bring them into the portfolio.

“There’s just so much happening, primarily driven by consumer techs because of the scale there,” he says, pointing to Recon Instruments, the maker of “heads-up display technology” that could help officers glean information faster without affecting their ability to act.

“Think of it like Google Glass but they have the display in the lower right hand corner,” he says. “Information that the officer gets covertly, hands-free in the right place at the right time - that would be of interest so long as it’s not distracting.”

Similarly, in a fire or smoke-filled room, protective headgear might pack sensors to help emergency services manoeuvre.

There are many other opportunities including another company Motorola Solutions has a stake in, Speaktoit, described by Steinberg as “a Siri-like public safety-grade avatar”. You could ask this personal assistant situation-relevant questions such as: “How many crimes were committed here in the past month?” to build up a picture without inputting text.

Steinberg recognises that data can tell us much but with 70 million suspects in the IAFIS criminal master fingerprint file and billions of hours of surveillance camera footage captured, “more data is not the answer. It’s how you use it that matters.”

Video, image and audio recognition, augmented reality and motion-sensing technologies on devices or wearables can also help officers do their jobs, identifying a person of interest then detecting whether that person is in possession of firearms, for example, and even analysing a sound to establish it is a gunshot.

However, Steinberg insists that the company always must still be able to lean on the highest levels of availability, security and quality on dedicated networks.

“It’s mission-critical that we do voice better than anybody,” he says. “Tetra and P25 are not going to go away anytime soon.”

So the plan is to have a tiered approach. Take off-the-shelf technologies like the Android operating system and bolster it where needed. Selectively use broadband networks for low-risk activities like ticketing but then use hardened versions of public networks and dedicated networks (or in some cases closely governed networks shared with utilities and the military) where they are appropriate.

“It’s a tension we struggle with daily but what’s clear is that in the worst possible scene we have something that lets us communicate.”

That means that the often bulky devices used by security forces are not going to be sleek and trendy tomorrow.

“Their form factor is what it is because they are extremely rugged and they can transmit, even directly to each other without any fixed network, with greater range (kilometres) and deeper into buildings than your or my cellphone. Plus they have to be ‘usable’ in extreme circumstances of  low visibility, high ambient noise, difficult environmental conditions and often with heavily gloved hands. They are built for mission critical purposes.”

In public safety, technology has to be adopted carefully without the gung-ho approach of a startup and always with a view to the wider benefits of society. But Steinberg believes that security professionals are excited by the new opportunities.

“When you talk to public safety pro’s they want a good relationship with society, officers and individual safety,” he says. “The gap between what we have and what is possible is wide… the potential is enormous.


Martin Veitch is Editor at IDG Connect


« Crowdsourcing Innovation: Abhishek Sharma, Co-founder of Intugine Technologies


CMO Files: Marie Hattar, CMO, Check Point Software Technologies »
Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

  • twt
  • twt
  • Mail


Do you think your smartphone is making you a workaholic?