Officer using L-3 in-vehicle systems, including FlashBack 3 video, a VOne mobile computer, and PatrolScout integrated video streaming and GPS locator. Photo courtesy of L-3.
Just about every high-ticket product sold in the United States has its yearly debut schedule. New cars take center stage from August through October. Computers, smartphones, and tablets take a bow in early fall with enough time for Christmas shopping. For patrol car video systems, the debut venue is the International Association of Chiefs of Police trade show held each fall. Each year the manufacturers of mobile video systems come to IACP to demonstrate not only their newest models but also new features that have been added to some of their current best selling systems.
Over the last two years of IACP shows, in-car video manufacturers have debuted a number of new products that have followed new trends in the mobile video market. Here’s a look at some of those products and trends.
Manufacturers say they are hearing more requests from customers for HD capability and clarity, which means more and more users have storage solutions and file transport systems that can handle the data load.
Coban’s Fusion system is now HD. Recording at all times in high definition, the system includes a 4.3-inch touchscreen monitor, built-in GPS and crash sensor, and dual 64GB hard drives. It’s designed to be portable so agencies can move the system from vehicle to vehicle as needed.
Panasonic announced the availability of its Arbitrator 360 HD this fall. The system supports up to five cameras, but the most common setup is three: one front facing, one rear facing, and one side. Image quality on the front-facing camera is 1080p full HD while the other two cameras offer 720p HD. Image quality on the front-facing camera is so strong that it can be used for surveillance. At this year’s IACP show in Philadelphia a Panasonic rep demonstrated the system’s ability to capture small details on buildings across the street from the convention center, a distance of more than 100 yards.
WatchGuard also showed its 4RE HD system at this year’s show. Released in 2012, the 4RE HD is one of the first HD public safety video systems. The 4RE HD records simultaneously in HD and SD to a USB flash drive or a hard drive.
Some manufacturers are using new technologies and the drop in cost of components caused by economies of scale to lower the pricing on their in-car video systems.
For example, Coban is touting its Fusion HD as not only one of the most compact full-featured in-car video systems available but also one of the most affordable.
Digital Ally takes this price competition to a more specific level. Greg Dyer, Digital Ally's national sales manager, said in September that the company was shaving about $2,000 off the price of its latest system, the DVM-800. The DVM-800’s features include: four cameras, wireless download, 720p resolution, and automatic recording triggers. Digital Ally’s 2013 IACP sell sheet said the company is now selling this system for less than $4,000.
The promotional materials for 247’s Patrol series—the PWIII and PWLite—say the video systems were designed for cops by cops. Another selling point for the PWLite is its sub-$3,000 price tag. Features include: rearview mirror display, 708 x 480 resolution (user adjustable), automatic triggers, solid state removable storage, and 16GB flash memory.
Perhaps the hottest trend in law enforcement vehicle video is the ability to live stream the video to a remote location, allowing command staff, watch commanders, supervisors, and even dispatch to see what is happening in the field.
Federal Signal’s DTX line offers live streaming through the company’s DTX-Command software. The stream is transferred via any available 3G cellular signal. DTX-Command users can remotely zoom cameras. Other features of the software include file review and search, remote file download, Google Maps plotting of vehicle position, and remote management of DVR settings.
L-3’s PatrolScout is another software tool that allows streaming of live video from the in-car system to remote locations and command offices. In order to stream the video live, the vehicle must be in range of a 3G or 4G cellular data signal. Video can be viewed on PCs, dispatch monitors, MDCs, smartphones, or tablets. Other capabilities and features include: Google Maps plotting of vehicle, auto-tracking of the vehicle, “watch me” alerts, and flexible and definable access controls.
Safety Vision’s Livetrax is the live video streaming software for the company’s Icop in-car video systems. Livetrax uses cellular data networks to send live video to authorized users who can use a simple browser interface to view the stream.
WatchGuard showed its streaming software called Watch Commander at this year’s IACP. Watch Commander enables live video and audio streaming from any of WatchGuard’s 4RE in-car video systems. The 4RE DVR creates an optimized stream of H.264 compressed video with different frame rates for speedy transfer of files over 3G/4G/LTE cellular data systems. Authorized personnel can view the secure live video streams over computers, smartphones, and tablets, as the user interface scales to fit the device. Features include: real-time data and location status, officer notification that data is being streamed, multicast media server that allows multiple users to view the feed, and interface with WatchGuard’s Evidence Library 3.1 (or higher) evidence management software.
Angeltrax/VizuCop’s Police Video offers a lot of the standard features now common on in-car video solutions. It comes with three cameras, solid state and hard drive storage options, a rearview mirror monitor, passive GPS tracking, a wireless mic, and infrared for nighttime. But it also has a patented dual capture forward-facing camera that houses both 25mm and 5.2mm lenses. The dual capture camera allows the system to record details such as license plate numbers without manual zooming.
Digital Ally also showed a very interesting and innovative product at the recent IACP show. Digital Ally makes both on-body and in-car video products and the company has developed new ways to integrate the two. For example, the company’s back-end software handles the video from both systems. Digital Ally has also developed a way to add functionality to the FirstVu HD on-body camera through a link to a DVM in-car system. The connector between the in-car and on-body systems is called the VuLink. It's essentially a small hardware device that sends signals from Digital Ally's in-car video systems to the company's on-body camera system and operates the on-body unit hands-free. "VuLink makes the FirstVu HD body camera capable of being the same hands-free non-distraction as the in-car video systems," says Digital Ally's Greg Dyer. "VuLink also links up the body camera and in-car video recordings in the back-office software."
When it comes to unusual features, Stalker Radar’s CopTrax system may take the prize. CopTrax is a software solution that runs on the car's laptop, which receives data from the video cameras installed in the vehicle. Like many other in-car systems currently on the market, it streams live data. Unlike any other that I’ve seen, however, it can also integrate with smartphones using them as on-body cameras and with Google's wearable computer system called Glass. Bill Switzer, video product manager for Stalker/CopTrax, says he actually envisions officers driving around while wearing Glass. That may alarm some people, considering that an officer in California recently issued a citation to a woman for driving with Glass, but Switzer sees the Google product as something like a heads up display that can relay information to officers while they drive. The Google Glass capabilities of CopTrax are still in development and will likely be expanded in future versions of the software, but they have the potential to be expansive. “The opportunities for augmented reality in law enforcement operations are endless,” Switzer says.
Another innovation that many officers will be glad to see in their cars is a trend by some companies to miniaturize their cameras, making it easier for the officer to see around them. A prime example of this trend is WatchGuard’s Zero Sightline camera released last year. The ZSL is a credit card-sized HD camera incorporated into the rearview mirror on the windshield side and out of view of the officer.
Anybody who uses in-car video in law enforcement knows that the cameras and the recorder are just the most visible elements of the system. Perhaps even more important to successful use of the video captured in the field is the quality of the back-end software used to manage the video files as evidence.
Kustom Signals introduced a new evidence management tool called Eyewitness Data Vault at this year’s IACP. Scalable from one user to thousands of users, Eyewitness Data Vault manages digital evidence securely on a local computer or across a network. It can handle digital files from Kustom Signals’ in-car, motorcycle, and on-body video systems and from non-proprietary sources. The software supports simultaneous playback of files from multiple sources, which means you can watch an incident as it was captured from multiple cameras and multiple angles. A configurable rights management feature allows agencies to establish which files can be viewed by which personnel. Comprehensive audit trails and automatic file integrity checks ensure the chain of custody.