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Can Google Glass Help First Responders?

First responders can now access critical data in the field as well as link back to central command, and Google Glass lets them do it hands-free.

Robocop may not be real, but his efficiency is something worth aspiring to. Through the use of Google Glass, communications vendor Mutualink may soon give public safety and military personnel a chance to capture some of the half-robot, half-man’s technological capabilities. Showcased from August 18 to 21 at the annual Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference in Anaheim, Calif., Mutualink demonstrated how Google Glass could serve real-time information, hands-free, to public safety officials using their interoperability communications platform.

Mutualink provides public safety and military organizations with the ability to share all kinds of data despite mismatched hardware or software. During their demonstration at APCO, hundreds of fusion centers, schools, hospitals, utility plants and operation centers were connected, able to share video, voice and data ad-hoc. That, said VP of Innovation Michael Wengrovitz, is the basic capability already offered by their company. Google Glass, about to enter the consumer market, will provide a new avenue for delivery of their services, Wengrovitz explained.

Google Glass doesn’t change how their system works, he said. In many ways, it’s just another computer, but with the important difference that it frees up the hands of the person using it. In one demonstration, the company illustrated how Google Glass and their network could allow video or a map to be shared during a mock school shooting.

“We really saw firsthand that first responders inside a school need to have timely and situational awareness and they need their hands. Both of them,” he said. Google Glass’s heads up display (HUD) allows users to look to the right in their peripheral vision and view information that is being served to them, like maps, blueprints, surveillance video feeds, or other documents. Information can also be returned back to command and control from the field.

Dozens of interested passers-by visited their booth at the conference, Wengrovitz said, and people appreciated the hands-free nature of Google Glass. It’s a great step for public safety, he added.

The nationwide public safety broadband network being developed by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was also on Mutualink’s mind, as the company demonstrated their wares on a band 14 LTE network hosted by Alcatel Lucent, similar to what will be available when FirstNet’s network is launched.

“What we showed there, which I think is very unique, is that our system can bridge together facilities that are already on wired connections with facilities that become connected to FirstNet when it deploys across the United States,” Wengrovitz said. This is important, he noted, because there will be a migration period when people are moving to FirstNet’s network and Mutualink will be there to support everyone, regardless of which network they’re on.

Google Glass is a very promising technology, said Mutualink Senior VP Joe Mazzarella, but for public safety, there are a couple improvements that could be made. The audio, which works through cranial vibration, works well, but its reliability in a loud environment is an open question. And the HUD, while useful, will also continue to evolve in future wearable computers, he said, adding that all of this is pushing people toward an augmented reality.

Eventually, he said, wearable computers will have more advanced HUDs. “You’re looking at your normal view through your eyes, but through a screen that allows data to be opposed onto that view space so that you could look at different information,” he said. This type of capability will be very useful for first responders and soldiers alike, he said – adding that the capabilities of this technology will only become greater as companies like Google enhance their products.

The interoperability network services offered by Mutualink are also a good fit for international applications or instances where there are coalition or joint forces because translation services can be integrated into the system, Mazzarella said.

Authorities in Brazil are strongly considering Mutualink’s Google Glass solution for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Already a customer of Mutualink, Brazil will use the company’s interoperability capabilities to connect agencies from the federal, state and municipal levels so they can communicate quickly and easily during these large-scale events, Col. Alexandre Corval Vieira explained, in an email to Government Technology. An official with the state military police, Corval also serves as the superintendent of IT and communications as well as chief project officer of the Integrated Command and Control Center in Rio de Janeiro.

In addition to improving communications, he said, they anticipate Mutualink will allow them to make the most of existing technological investments such as CCTV installations. Their greatest challenge, he said, is creating an effective model whereby all parties involved can work efficiently and effectively. He anticipates Mutualink will help them meet this challenge and improve the capacity of their command and control, deliver more accurate information more quickly, and make better decisions.

As for Google Glass, Col. Corval said he anticipates the most useful component of the system will be the ability to capture data from the point of view of first responders. The initial purchase of Mutualink equipment will be installed at the Integrated Command and Control Center in Rio de Janeiro so that security, fire and emergency supervisors and dispatchers can easily share information.


Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.