Augmented reality for Policing

So what is Augmented Reality?

In a nutshell it is using technology (phones, cameras, specially adapted glasses) to overlay useful information on the real world around us. One good example is the Head up Display (HUD) that is used in planes, and is starting to be seen in cars. Have a look at this video from GM on how this could be implemented in your next car windscreen. Imagine this embedded in patrol cars to identify where crime hotspots are, or where victims of crime live, with a live feed on when they were last contacted by the police to offer support.

There are other examples – for example what about impactive crime prevention advice delivered in 3D by using a basic business card, with a link to a website that turns it into an augmented reality video message – see the video to understand what I mean, or even better try it out yourself here (requires a printer and webcam) – another similar jaw dropping idea here.

In terms of the costs and feasibility of these systems, have a look at this video presented by Pranav Mistry – the inventor of SixthSense, a wearable device that enables new interactions between the real world and the world of data. I especially like the end of the video where the system projects real time information about an individual on them as they shake hands with the wearer.

It can even be used as a virtual watch or phone

For more examples how about a London tube map app that uses the camera in your iPhone to overlay directions on the real world? Again this could be delivered today for a policing or emergency services audience, using basic available technologies. The possibilities for policing are pretty wide – facial recognition, safety in pursuits, hotspots, victims addresses where follow up might be needed, details on last time a patrol came down this street, and what they dealt with in terms of ASB, Crime etc… the list is endless.

Or how about this example from Holland. A concern about violence towards public sector workers led to them trying AR on a billboard – people could see themselves with a superimposed fight going on in the street around them. Certainly impactive.

Dynamic feedback

One thing the police need to improve on is getting dynamic feedback on their performance from the public. Surveys, focus groups etc have their place, but an immediate and personalised feedback from someone who has just interacted with their local PC or PCSO is much more useful.

Check out this concept (so is not real…yet) that links facial recognition to social media profiles. I am particularly interested in the ‘rate’ section – imagine that for your local PC or PCSO as they deal with an incident – immediate personalised feedback on performance!


As with any new technology there are some downsides. For example all these systems  rely on GPS to provide the location elements, and the accuracy is not 100%, especially inside or in highly built up areas.

There are also privacy issues – in terms of police using the data that people choose to put up on the web about themselves (eg Facebook profiles, tweets, etc) and about others viewing less public data (so in a policing context projecting an individual’s criminal record onto their T shirt may not be appropriate). The latter issue may well be resolved by taking the projection element and putting it into wearable glasses – again this technology exists now and is cheap.

Size and price – although the device above is wearable and around $350, and many of these services will run on your iPhone or similar smart phone now, so these may not be real constraints for very long.

Safety of use – if you think using a mobile phone in a car is a distraction, then regulators and health and safety people will have a field day with systems like these. Finally there is the possibility that with all that augmented reality to look at, people will miss things going on in the real world – there can be such a thing as too much information!

More information

Full bio and more links for Pranav Mistry.

Detailed research paper from the FBI (found via

See also the Augmented Reality product review in 22nd Feb 2010 Jane’s police review.

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One Response to Augmented reality for Policing

  1. Pingback: Augmented reality for Policing | Policing news |

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