AR/VR Can Help Support Improved Law Enforcement, but…

via Tim Marler

AR and VR are seeing increased consideration for law enforcement with a variety of applications.  However, there is a risk of insufficient market benefits for developers.  This in turn can lead to a technology “push”, whereby developers are eager to penetrate a new market sector and actively sell products to new users, with insufficient efforts to ensure content responds directly to user needs.

Many Different Applications

As EchoAR noted last year and others continue to tout, AR/VR can play a significant role in the future of policing with many different applications.  AR/VR promises to augment and improve law enforcement training.  To be sure, police departments have been using virtual environments for years, but the systems tend to be relatively large and simply replay a suite of movies for trainees to react to.  They can take up significant space, they can lack accessibility and availability (relative to smaller current hardware), and they can come at a significant cost, making them unavailable to smaller departments.  This last point is especially important, given that the average size of a police department in the United States is approximately 12 officers.  But, new AR/VR technology can address these issues.

Many companies are developing virtual content to help law enforcement train empathy, de-escalation, response to shoot/don’t-shoot situations, and more.  These topics are especially relevant to recent events and could help address serious issues with training.  AR/R could increase accessibility and thus increase training repetitions.

In addition to training, VR/AR can help with reviewing and analyzing complex crime scenes that involve large amounts of data in various forms.  AR/VR can also potentially provide advanced information to officers, in order to increase situational awareness prior to arriving on a scene.

Doing More than Increase Market Share

However, there is a risk of industry focusing on the newly accessible law-enforcement market simply for the sake of increased market share.  Historically, VR/AR was an exciting technology looking for an application.  Now, there are apparent and practical applications, but there can still be a tendency to push the technology out by leveraging its “cool” factor rather than appropriately leveraging its value.  That is, the virtual content should not just appeal to the buyer; it must respond directly to user needs, especially when used for training.  The content must map to specific training goals (task and skills).  Fidelity, for example, cannot simply be as high as possible, but rather, it should suit the specific use.

A Challenging Business Model

Because the law enforcement market is relatively small (compared to the entertainment market from which AR/VR grew), having fewer users for law-enforcement-specific content can mean developers have to charge relatively high prices.  Department budgets may not support acquisition of sufficient hardware, let alone properly designed content that responds to localized training needs.  Video games are relatively inexpensive, because there are millions of users, but there are not millions of police departments.  This means smaller AR/VR companies can have difficulties entering the market.  In addition, even larger companies may have to leverage other internal resources to support costs of entering the market.  Ultimately, the business model for using AR/VR to support law enforcement across the country is not necessarily simple.

It’s A Policy Problem

Ensuring AR/VR content responds to user needs and ensuring there is a business model that incentivizes industry but allows access for all police departments, are challenging and complex policy problems.  Such policy issues cannot fall by the wayside in the face of exciting technology development.

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