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Public-safety wearables are catching the technological-innovation wave

by Urgent Communications contributor
Feb 05, 2016

Innovation in the public-safety wearables space is happening at an unprecedented pace, thanks largely to the fact that key software, hardware, tools and platforms are easily and inexpensively available.

By Edmond ‘Ed’ Vea

For this year’s CES keynote, Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich was having a lot of fun showing off some of things Intel is working on, including a must-see drone fireworks show (you have to see it, to understand). But what stuck out to me was a small, button-sized microprocessor module designed specifically for wearables that Intel is calling Curie.

With a target price below $10, Intel Curie comes with a complete software platform and a 6-axis combo sensor that includes accelerometers and gyroscopes. In this, our third year of looking at and reviewing wearables for public safety, modules like Curie demonstrate that innovation—in terms of size, power, and price—in this space is accelerating with no slowdown in sight.

Over the last year, body cameras are clearly the wearable getting the most attention. But there are so many other uses as pointed out previously: “

Before we look at the specifics of what is happening in the wearable space that is applicable to public safety, let’s take a step back and consider some of the key factors driving this unprecedented innovation. The most important are openness, availability, interoperability and cost.

Growing innovation in the space is the natural and direct result of software, hardware, tools and platforms being easily and inexpensively available. Combine the worldwide open-source community (GNU General Public License), Internet search engines, code repositories (GitHub), and a community of sharers and helpers (Stackoverflow), and you have the makings of millions of creative minds contributing to almost any imaginable solution.

For wearables and IoT, we are talking about marrying ideas in software with hardware platforms that provide processing, input/output, storage, communications link, power and power management. Some provide general-purpose functionality, and others are tailored to a specific function and feature set. Hardware platforms are typically based on a microprocessor and varying combination of the features mentioned above. Currently, some of the most prolific of these are the Arduino and RaspberryPi, but these are by no means the only options.

Developers are taking these platforms and prototyping all kinds solutions, and—to reduce complexity and shorten time to market—most of them rely on Integrated Development Environments (IDE). Combining IDE’s with deployment frameworks like IBM Bluemix, AT&T Flow Designer, and AWS IoT, a solution can be launched in both a trial environment and then commercially.

If desired, it is possible to build custom hardware by integrating the processors and sensors used in prototype platform into a unique design and form factor. To make a custom solution, it is necessary to design a custom board and establish the associated bill of materials (BOM). This can be done with a number of Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools on the market, and many of them have a free version. EDAs help developers to diagram their solution, lay out boards and components, calculate power and provide a BOM. Most EDA’s also provide mechanisms for ordering parts, or they have options to save and send the final design to third-party manufacturers.

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