Rick Smith, Founder & CEO
The somberness of standing amidst closed heavy metal walls while having your iris scanned, stands in stark contrast once the authentication system allows entry into the flashy futuristic workspace of Axon, the new avatar of TASER International. On one side, a granite grey mannequin stands, donning the smart uniform of the Scottsdale Police Department and the Axon gadgetry. Once in, the backside silhouette of two building-sized images of police officers, with the trademark TASER weapon in their holsters, can be seen adorning the glass windows facing outside. Straight ahead, beyond switchable smart glass windows, lays Santa’s workshop, where Axon’s TASERs, body cameras, POV cameras, and other signal products are made and tested. Axon, although known for its flagship crime deterrent—the weapon that uses electric current to cause neuromuscular incapacitation—also has a wide variety of hardware and software products that enable ‘smart’ law enforcement from the crime scene to the court scene.
"We’re more focused than ever on our mission to protect life, and we have some big goals and plans to help us fulfill it"
Standing before the magnificent Scottsdale, AZ headquarters, Axon’s Founder and CEO, Rick Smith challenges a few Chief-of-Police friends and drops an entire bucket of icy water on himself, chokingly exclaiming, “This is very similar to being tased!” The change of name from the one that gave rise to the iconic phrase ‘to be tased,’ also exemplifies the company’s decision to expand the portfolio to encompass a wide range of connected devices and software applications. The year 2017 also signifies a milestone in the evolution of the company, from a less-lethal weapons manufacturer to a full solutions provider of cloud and mobile software, wearables, and most recently, artificial intelligence—all aimed at making law enforcement safe, secure, and efficient. “We’re more focused than ever on our mission to protect life, and we have some big goals and plans to help us fulfill it,” substantiates Smith. To an industry that is most critical to our lives, yet underserved by technology, these developments come as a relief.
Weapons of Mass Documentation
While the burgeoning adoption of body cameras and other on-premise evidence mechanisms has given indisputable sources of truth in a courtroom, the onus of managing and sharing digital evidence has fallen entirely on the agencies and prosecutors. Traditionally, agencies would have to burn evidence on disks and ship them to the prosecutors’ offices, which would then be shared with the entire office for defense attorneys, public requests, and the press. This process would typically take a week or more.
This team will be focused on near-term problems like redaction and video analytics, but artificial intelligence capabilities will be foundational technology incorporated into all of our products moving forward
Axon has revolutionized the way evidence travels from body cameras, POV cameras, in-car cameras, and signal devices, with a cloud-based ‘dropbox’- like ecosystem for prosecutors and law enforcement agencies—Evidence.com. With a secure, digital, data storage and management system like Evidence.com, evidence can be uploaded by agencies and shared with prosecutors with a single click, notifying the prosecutors who can then accept the case and share it within their offices in no time as well. The entire process now takes a few hours even for files of large sizes and a great number of them as well.
The process of storing, sharing, and transferring the ownership of data within Evidence.com is secured with industry best-practice security measures like ISO/IEC 27001:2013, CJIS compliance, encryption, multi-factor authentication, and evidence data-hashing. Further, detailed audit logs within Evidence.com ensure that a complete chain of custody and authenticity is maintained. Moreover, the disk-free digital evidence format is admissible in court. The scalability offered within the solution allows prosecutors to share cases, upload digital data, and receive cases from multiple agencies, seamlessly and instantly.
At the station, Evidence.com takes the role of a digital evidence management system (DEMS), enabling agencies to upload data, tag and retrieve evidence, and share case files with a few clicks. Features like multi-cam playback and advanced skin blurring are constantly upgraded and added to the DEMS as well. Axon Interview, a component of the DEMS, captures vital interview footage with redundant, high-quality video and audio technology, and allows users to access and upload to Evidence.com. Axon Commander is a single repository that consolidates all digital evidence allowing for easy access and management; at the same time maintaining security and chain of custody throughout usage.
Tracking Every Judicious Moment
Axon’s popularity among the field personnel is of course, best explained by inspecting the portfolio of hardware endpoints provided by the company. The range of devices offered by Axon to law enforcement agencies includes Axon Body 2, the HD on-officer video streaming camera, and Axon Flex 2, which captures point-of-view video evidence in HD and panoramic view. Axon Fleet connects existing in-car video systems to mobile devices, cloud servers, and wearables, taking evidence reviews to a new level of real-time access.
On the mobile device, officers can use the Axon Capture application to securely record and upload evidence in image, audio statements, and video footage formats, all from their smartphones, whether iOS or Android. Each piece of evidence can be identified with tags, titles, and GPS coordinates, through the layer of metadata added over the evidence.
While the cameras offer a sense of accountability to the decisions and actions of a police officer during a conflict, Axon offers other signal products that can offer a more holistic argument in the face of an allegation of police violence. The Signal Vehicle device alerts in-car cameras to start recording during moments like the opening of the police vehicle door or activation of the light bar. The Signal Performance Power Magazine, similarly triggers body cameras when the Taser Smart Weapon is armed and ready to use. In a worst-case scenario, when a sidearm is un-holstered, the Signal Sidearm device alerts all Axon cameras up to 30 feet to begin recording the events.
Gearing Up for the Next Patrol
Impacted by an episode where two of his high school friends were shot and killed in a road rage incident, Smith’s decision to start TASER along with his brother in 1993 could not have been at a better timing. It was at the same opportune moment that the voice against rampant gun violence in America began to find support, and law agencies were quick to look for any non-lethal solution that came their way to curb violence. TASER International grew quickly from a garage startup to a publicly traded company, selling over 750,000 Tasers that have saved more than 100,000 lives since then. Axon has since outgrown the stereotype, as Smith elucidates, “When I say Taser, the first thing that comes to mind is stun guns and electrical weapons. We’re something bigger now. Axon is all about this connected network of devices.”
The statement in itself justifies the company’s new name, an axon being the smallest unit of connectivity in the human brain. Fresh from a makeover in not just the name, but also in its value proposition, the team at Axon has interesting plans for the near future. With a range of smart weapons, devices, and software, Axon now looks to bring a contextual cohesion between all their gear, envisaging a future where the protection of a community can be made significantly better and more efficient with technology.
Smith says, “Initially, this team will be focused on near-term problems like redaction and video analytics, but artificial intelligence capabilities will be foundational technology incorporated into all of our products moving forward.” The company has already begun investing in AI to enable a new level of automation and insight in law enforcement. A new group called Axon Artificial Intelligence, a result of two acquisitions by Axon, aims at introducing AI to public safety, the same way axon introduced cloud with Evidence.com. If the path forward for Axon is anything like its last 23 years, the law enforcement industry is yet to see its next big technology upgrade, with an incredible opportunity to make a positive and lasting impact on public safety and human life.