Unlocking the Future: The transformative role of Augmented Reality in public safety

by Omon Fagbamigbe - Data Consulting Manager
| minute read

In the dynamic realm of technology, Augmented Reality (AR) emerges as a transformative powerhouse reshaping public safety and emergency response strategies. This innovative technology is gaining momentum across diverse industries, with AR proving to be a game-changer in the domain of public safety. By harnessing its real-time data collection and analysis capabilities, AR has the potential to revolutionise situational awareness and decision-making for first responders and emergency managers, paving the way for a more secure and efficient emergency response landscape. In a world where technology underpins our daily lives, staying abreast of the latest trends and developments is crucial to fully leverage its potential and continue enhancing our society.

This article offers a compelling insight into the transformative potential of augmented reality in bolstering public safety. By spotlighting the advantages of AR technology in supporting situational awareness and decision-making for emergency personnel, it underscores the critical role AR can play in improving public safety and emergency services. Additionally, the article delves into the challenges faced by the industry in making AR more accessible and user-friendly to a broader audience, advocating for strategic adoption in the public sector to enhance emergency response capabilities.

What is Augmented Reality?

AR combines virtual and real environments by utilising computer-generated graphics to enhance the user's perception of the real world. That is, AR enhances how users perceive their surroundings by superimposing digital content on the real world. One of the greatest attractions of AR is that the applications are predominantly used on smart phones, hence its growing adoption, unlike other immersive technologies such as virtual reality, mixed reality and metaverse which require the use of headsets. Although historically, the use of AR first started as a head-mounted headset and progressed to smart glasses, they are now predominantly used on hand-held smart devices (Fig 1).

The adoption of augmented reality technology in various industries has been ongoing for decades, from NASA to sports broadcasting to automotive repair. Whilst the utilisation of AR technology has gained traction in certain industries, its overall adoption remains relatively low. The primary challenge faced by the industry lies in transforming the perception of AR from being excessively high-tech to making it more accessible and user-friendly to everyday consumers. However, there has been a notable increase in the adoption of AR technology not only in the retail industry but also in various other sectors.

Figure 1: Early days of AR- Source G2 (Poetker, 2019)

Potential benefits of AR technology in the public sector

Given the advancement in mobile technology and the abundance of digital data available, AR is poised to become a significant tool for organisations to make real-time decisions more efficiently. For instance, AR can enable more precise real-time data collection, such as demographic information, which can then be analysed to inform policy decisions and enhance government services. Despite the growing demand and potential benefits of AR, it is still in its nascent stage in terms of development and adoption in various industries, particularly in government. As the technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see many more AR applications across different fields.

Enhancing public safety

AR technology has the potential to significantly enhance public safety and emergency response efforts. By providing real-time situational awareness and decision support, AR can equip first responders such as firefighters and police officers with an augmented view of their surroundings, highlighting potential hazards and critical information such as the location of victims or the nearest exit. This improved situational awareness can lead to faster response times and more informed decision-making, ultimately saving lives. Additionally, AR can provide decision support for emergency managers and incident commanders by overlaying real-time data such as weather reports or traffic patterns onto a map of the affected area, aiding in resource allocation and evacuation planning. AR can also be utilised for training purposes, allowing first responders to simulate emergency scenarios and practice response strategies in a safe and controlled environment, thus improving their skills and readiness for real-world emergencies.

Customs and border protection

AR technology has the potential to revolutionise the way customs and border force agents conduct security checks. By creating 3D images of X-ray scans, AR systems can help identify hidden items in luggage or cargo more effectively. Agents can quickly and efficiently detect any potential security threats, minimising delays and costs while maximising available resources. Additionally, AR devices can assist agents with real-time translation, which is crucial when dealing with travellers who speak different languages. Finally, AR technology can also be used to create training simulations for customs and border force agents. These simulations provide realistic scenarios, allowing agents to practice responding to various situations without risking their safety or that of others. ​​

AR in justice

What can AR contribute to the fight for justice? How might AR be used by law enforcement, legal experts, defendants, litigants, judges, and juries? Will the use of immersive visualisation technologies in courtrooms result in more fairness or will it be unfair? The potential for immersive technologies in the legal system has received renewed attention. From examining a crime scene to testifying in court, AR and VR are beginning to prove their worth, for example in 2016 the Dutch police conducted a trial of an AR solution to assist officers in investigating crime scenes. The system allowed officers to stream video from their body cameras or smart glasses to forensic scientists, chemical analysts, and other experts who could provide remote guidance during the investigation.

Using the AR solution, experts could explore the crime scene from the officer's perspective and provide real-time guidance on how to collect and preserve evidence. They could use annotations in the officer's smart glasses or smartphone display to point out evidence to be examined and bagged.

This approach can be very helpful, especially in cases where the first responding officer may not have the necessary expertise to conduct a thorough investigation. The use of AR technology allows for a more collaborative approach to investigations, with experts being able to provide guidance remotely, reducing the need for them to be physically present at the scene.

These early forays into using AR to enhance crime scene investigation could also impact crime scene training and courtroom presentations. Photos and video captured via smart glasses at the crime scene serve to preserve the scene for later use in the investigation and trial, but that footage can also help create immersive training simulations.

Next step

Despite the benefits of AR, its adoption by government is still slow. The big question is, how will the adoption of AR enhance an organisation's overall mission and vision? Could AR represent the next industrial revolution? One of the biggest benefits of AR is cost saving. According to research carried out by Harvard Business School in 2017 on AR, the following benefits of were revealed ​(Harvard Business Review, 2017)​:

  • AR reduces inspection time by 96% for a telecommunication service engineer leading to overall time savings of 25%.
  • Boeing trainees’ work was completed in 35% less time than trainees using traditional 2-D drawing and with an increased first-time accuracy rate of >90%.
  • GE completed wiring in wind turbines using voice command in AR and achieved >34% productivity.

Sopra Steria solutions

AR stands at the forefront of revolutionising public safety and emergency response strategies, showcasing its transformative potential in enhancing situational awareness and decision-making for first responders and emergency managers. As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of technology, it is evident that AR, alongside other innovative technologies, is reshaping various sectors and offering new possibilities for societal advancement.

Sopra Steria, a recognised major player in the management of mixed reality, offers cutting-edge AR solutions that have the power to revolutionise client engagement, consumer services, and employee management from recruitment to retirement. Our immersive and interactive AR solutions are designed to enhance customer experiences, improve operational efficiencies, and drive cost savings, ultimately delivering a positive return on investment. With a team of experienced AR consultants dedicated to creating customised solutions tailored to your specific needs, Sopra Steria is committed to leveraging AR technology to shape a more secure and responsive future for public safety and emergency services.



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