Marc Costa, a New Jersey police officer, found himself dealing with an excess of paperwork on the job. Up to three quarters of a police officer's day can be spent filling out paperwork, and he wanted to find a way to make his workday more efficient. Some people, given that situation, would likely just complain a lot. Others might speak with their boss about a better way. Costa did something more: He built a custom-made tablet for police officers, and then joined a startup.
Costa's company, MIR Systems (the acronym is for Mobile Incident Reporting), produces a super-durable 4G LTE-enabled tablet PC for police departments and emergency workers. The Android-based tablet is designed so that police officers in the field can quickly file reports and search license plate information with minimal time spent navigating from app to app. Although the tablet is considerably heavier than the iPad (approximately two pounds to the iPad's 1.4 pounds), MIR's product was designed with durability in mind—the company claims the tablet can handle a five-foot drop.
When police officers turn the tablet on, they can choose from three primary apps. An "Officer Activity" product allows users to quickly browse through a Windows Metro-style box view of previously filed police reports and to file new reports. A second "Motor Vehicle" app lets cops rapidly search through license plate information while in the field. A separate "Info Search" app lets law enforcement search through custom-designed databases such as, for instance, name and address info for people the police department has previously interacted with.
In addition, a fourth "Misc" app includes a customized version of Google Maps and a translation program based on Google's API. All information is stored on servers located at the police department and is encrypted. Users are required to have separate accounts with passwords in order to operate the tablets. The company's software is also marketed as a standalone product to install on top of Windows 8-based tablets.
As a whole, law enforcement information technology is dominated by 800-pound giants such as Raytheon and Motorola Solutions. MIR is a small company, which is a rarity among IT hardware providers for police departments. The company is Costa's first tech firm, while CEO Robert E. Clark previously worked as a consultant for IBM and Motorola, and CTO Akshay Sura comes from a business software background.
In promotional materials, the tablet is touted as a cost-cutting measure for police departments in small-town and suburban markets. A product demo indicated that MIR's tablet is far more user friendly than similar tablets from large firms, but those large firms also have far more pull and name recognition with law enforcement buyers. MIR's challenge is trying to find a niche in an already crowded market.
"The tablet is as easy to use as your smartphone," Costa told Fast Company while demonstrating the technology recently. The device is designed to be navigated through either a touchscreen or voice commands; representatives for the firm claim future versions will include Bluetooth, e-ticketing, and fingerprint scanning capabilities. By adopting the tablets, MIR claims that law enforcement agencies can sharply reduce their paperwork, logistics, and bookkeeping costs while cutting down on the hours officers perform administrative duties.
In order to deploy the tablets in the field, police departments must purchase dedicated servers from MIR. Once installed, the servers communicate with the tablets via 4G. Unlike most domestic residential customers, law enforcement agencies are able to purchase all-you-can-eat unlimited data plans from mobile service providers; MIR's tablets are set up to work with Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint domestically.
The tablets also enable officers to communicate in the field. Texting capabilities are built into the software, with all communications encrypted through two 128-bit SSL certificates. A secure video chat feature is also included inside the software.
While relatively few tablets aimed specifically at law enforcement or emergency responders have made it to market yet, there is a growing demand for rugged tablets such as the Panasonic Toughbook family from agencies. These tablets, much like MIR's product, are designed for use in physically demanding environments.
[Image: MIR Systems]