Harnessing the potential of AI for public safety

Dr Ngiam Kee Yuan, National University Health System's group chief technology officer, and Dr Feng Mengling, assistant professor at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, introducing a new facial recognition tool that notifies medical personnel when high-risk patients arrive. Motorola Solution's Dr Mahesh Saptharishi notes that AI is already transforming industries including healthcare but another industry that demands new technologies is public safety, especially with disasters and emergency events becoming more complex and challenging.
OCTOBER 21, 2019 - 3:37 PM

SINGAPORE, with its mature infrastructure and digital ecosystems is fast becoming a global frontier for artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT), with neighbouring countries looking to it as a hub for technology innovation. Earlier this year, the Singapore’s government announced the country’s ambition for technology innovation, which includes building new centres of innovation at tertiary and higher education, as well as research institutes.

AI is already transforming industries including healthcare by aiding clinical judgments and diagnosis, enabling virtual nursing assistance and even AI-assisted robotic surgery.

Another industry that demands new technologies is public safety, especially with disasters and emergency events becoming more complex and challenging.

Asia suffered greater impacts from natural disasters than any other region in 2018. Reinsurance firm Munich Re found that three quarters of all deaths from natural disasters globally occurred in Asia, with the region accounting for 43 percent of all international events. Terrorism also remains a threat with the number of attacks in Asia Pacific more than doubling between 2013 and 2018 according to global risk consultancy Control Risks.

In this environment, law enforcement authorities are seeking new technology solutions to help keep communities safe and secure. IDC’s latest Worldwide Semiannual Smart Cities Spending Guide, shows smart city spending across Asia Pacific excluding Japan will reach US$35.4 billion this year, with data-driven, public safety projects listed among the top investment priorities.

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AI and IoT are among technologies with the potential to transform the way that government and public safety officials work and keep their communities safe.

Used correctly, AI can enable public safety agencies to work more safely and efficiently by simplifying manual and repetitive tasks. The technology can also be used to generate richer and deeper analytical insights from data to enable better decision making. 

The manual task of analysing footage from video camera surveillance systems provides one clear example of where artificial intelligence comes into its own. People are likely to miss vital details in any task that becomes manual and repetitive, but sophisticated video analytics powered by AI can be used to overcome human limitations.

Imagine how this kind of AI could be used help public safety emergencies respond to an emergency event when every second counts. AI learning algorithms can be trained to filter through millions of images or countless hours of video footage to find vital clues in mere moments. These technologies are already helping to alert human operators to unusual patterns within video data - for example, when a large crowd disperses after a distressing event, or when a plume of smoke suddenly appears somewhere in a high fire risk area.

The Growing Power of AI for Tomorrow

AI is also being embedded into traditional technologies used by public safety including two-way radios. These devices are no longer only for human-to-human conversation alone - they can be used as connected voice assistants that enable frontline workers, including police officers, to work ”heads up and hands free”. When powered with AI, these devices can provide critical details that once depended on having a conversation with a control room operator. For example, a police officer could run a background check on a vehicle number plate or potentially use the radio to communicate with a citizen in another language.

AI and automation capabilities can also be used to streamline workflows for command centres and computer-assisted dispatch (CAD) platforms. For example, in an emergency, public safety resource dispatchers could respond to calls or texts while viewing all current emergency calls and available field resources on a single map. Previously, they may have used several systems, each with their own keyboard and mouse, and had to keep track of two callers reporting the same incident.

From here, dispatchers can send alerts to the best available resources to respond to the job, set up communications groups, and send further information to them as it comes in. When communicating with first responders, public safety dispatchers know who is speaking, where they are, and know their status through IoT devices in the field. It would be possible for dispatchers to know that an officer has drawn their weapon, exactly where they are, who is closest to provide support, and task additional back-up to support them in the safest and most efficient way possible – all without that officer under duress needing to say a word. 

Lastly, everything can be documented easily, with AI helping to automatically populating reports and create records. Questions about the precise timeline of events can be easily verified. Detectives can later use this case information to identify trends in criminal behaviour and use this information to allocate resources more effectively.

The potential of an interconnected ecosystem that includes the three elements of video, voice and software communications can also benefit many other sectors where control rooms are at the center of where critical decisions are made. This includes airports and commercial centres that welcome large crowds of people; large seaports; and the mining sector, where knowing the location and status of workers is a critical safety concern.

A Viable Investment

The opportunity to integrate AI within public safety control rooms has great potential. Video technology powered by AI-driven analytics has can improve our lives and make cities safer. It presents a growing and powerful capability to help emergency services and governments deal with today’s evolving threat landscape.

AI, IoT, and other emerging technologies hold great promise for future of public safety. Technology innovation will have a significant role in improving how emergency incidents are dealt with, and in saving lives. It is no longer a question of ‘why’ agencies need to adopt these innovations, but ‘when’.

The writer is chief technology officer at Motorola Solutions.