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The Making of Axon Body 3: The Case for a Connected Camera

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Our latest body camera, Axon Body 3, is launching soon. As we get geared up for it to hit the streets, we wanted to share some stories from our path to launch. Today's post covers the path to a connected camera and our new Axon Aware real-time technology.

It’s 1993. Grunge rock is in its heyday, Doc Martens are all the rage, and Dave MacDonald is working at Microsoft, trying to convince higher-ups that this thing called the internet will be important. While the debate presses on, he quietly gets permission to purchase a few servers, and then he and a fellow engineer snag a T1 Internet connection and create the first Microsoft website, by default becoming the company’s first webmasters. Two years later, Windows 95 launches, connecting millions to the internet, and the company never looked back.

So it’s safe to say that Dave, who is now Axon’s Senior Director of Apps and Device Software, is comfortable “skating to where the puck will be.” That mindset was especially important in early 2018 as he and his team began outlining the vision for a connected camera. See, as prevalent as body-worn cameras have become in law enforcement today, nearly all of their value is derived “later” - after an incident, when the video is uploaded and reviewed by a host of potential stakeholders. That delay between when a video is recorded and reviewed creates limitations on its use, relegating body camera footage to primarily evidentiary purposes. Dave heard a recurring theme on a series of customer visits: the need for real-time access to evidence and officer safety data.

So Dave and the Axon team got to work building the case for a camera that could be useful “Now.” They worked through a number of possible features and “what if’s”, like:

  • What if users could better understand a camera’s current state and location? Things like whether a recording began manually or was wirelessly activated, if the unit is functioning properly, how much evidence is on it and how much power is left.
  • What if the camera could detect and send weapon-based alerts, like if an officer draws or fires a gun or deploys a TASER weapon?
  • What if command staff could view a camera livestream and provide better assistance to the officer wearing it?
  • What if leadership or authorized users could access evidence while it’s still on a camera in the field, so that they can quickly understand what has unfolded in a critical event?
  • What if the camera could integrate in real-time with CAD or Records systems so that information is always current, or could leverage live audio transcription to speed up reporting?

None of these were simple ideas. The team knew that building a connected camera would be more challenging and expensive. And on top of that, despite the feedback from customers that they wanted more real-time information, it would also represent a new product category, without a predictable adoption curve. But thankfully, just as Dave helped usher in the internet, Axon has some experience creating new categories. People said no one would ever carry a TASER device, or wear a body camera, or use cloud computing. And just like in those instances, we have conviction about connected cameras. We feel strongly that our real-time technology, called Axon Aware, will have a huge impact on officers and communities around the world.

In 2019 - the era of the smartphone and animated emojis - livestreaming body camera footage from an interactive map is still an amazing thing to behold, even to people like Dave MacDonald. Axon Aware is a new, evolving technology, delivering connected capabilities today, and creating a vision for tomorrow. As Aware makes its way into the hands of our customers, we know they will continue to push us, and real-time data, into the future.

*Doc Martens is a trademark of "Dr. Martens" International Trading GmbH. Microsoft and Windows are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation.

Dave’s partner in crime in setting up Microsoft’s first website.

Livestream view from the streets of Seattle.

Another livestream view of Dave’s commute.