Robocop Now in Beta
By David Pescovitz, Fri Aug 27 17:00:00 GMT 2004

Police at this summer's US political conventions are being outfitted with unblinking digital eyes connected to a wireless optic nerve.

If you're in New York City when the Republican National Conventions kicks off next week, watch for police officers watching you with extra sets of megapixel peepers. The Federal Protective Service has outfitted patrol officers with helmets embedded with wireless video cameras. The images from the helmet-cams and traditional surveillance cameras mounted in federal buildings are streamed to a headquarters-on-wheels where deployment decisions can be made.

"This is an added bonus," the service's regional director, Ronald Libby, told New York Newsday. "I want to know what he [a patrol officer] sees to make a decision. ... This takes the guess work out of it."

According to the Newsday article, the signals are then encrypted and beamed to the Net via satellite for other officers to view via wirelessly enabled mobile PCs. The system is part of a larger digital video-surveillance system accessible via traditional Internet protocols. LiveWave Inc. provided the network capabilities through their FirstView product, a combination video encoder, camera controller and server that supports thousands of cameras, sensors, and users. LiveWave was contracted to deploy the same technology in Boston for last month's Democratic National Convention.

"FirstView acts as an effective force multiplier allowing the FPS security team to remotely access and control their current CCTV systems from anywhere while providing critical inter-agency support in the event of a threat or incident," LightWave CEO Peter Mottur said in a press release issued yesterday. "Additionally, remote mobile cameras have been deployed in key locations throughout the city for improved situational awareness."

Law enforcement officers have made use of video cameras for quite some time though. Mostly, they collect evidence during pursuits (and provide footage for the reality TV show COPS). More recently, some police departments began shifting to mobile digital video systems with better resolution and the capability to transmit the signal to headquaters.

The wearable component of the Federal Protective Service's system is more akin to two projects in development at UC Berkeley. As reported on TheFeature earlier this year, smart firefighter helmets will provide emergency personnel with an "augmented reality" display that overlays text and images onto their view through the helmet. Meanwhile, command and control officers can help guide the rescue efforts by sharing the view of the firefighters inside a blaze.

The police system is also quite similar to UC Berkeley professor Ken Goldberg's Tele-Actor, a "human robot" sporting wireless Web cams and microphones. Groups of online participants can collaboratively control the Tele-Actor as "it" moves through remote spaces. For example, in one experiment a class of high school students "visited" a restricted biotechnology laboratory using the Tele-Actor as their collective avatar.

The main difference between the Tele-Actor and the Federal Protective Service? In the case of the latter, your wish may not be their command.