Innovation

Gunshot detection technology as part of smart city design

ShotSpotter provides surveillance technology for sound detection of gunshots and is working with Current by GE to include the sensors in smart streetlights around the world.

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The NYPD is among the police departments that use ShotSpotter technology.

Image: iStock/zocik

When a gunshot is fired in an urban area, it's often difficult for responding police officers to determine exactly where it was located and how dangerous the situation might be. But surveillance technology from ShotSpotter allows cities to triangulate gunfire within 10 feet of where it happened and determine how many shooters there are before the police arrive on the scene.

ShotSpotter can be installed as a standalone device, and discreetly located on rooftops and other out of sight areas to prevent tampering. ShotSpotter's software can also be included in sensors installed in GE's smart streetlights with Current by GE.

This is part of Current's IoT platform within cities. The first version came out last year, and the second-generation sensor is launching early next year, said Austin Ashe, general manager of Intelligent Cities at Current.

SEE: Police buy into acoustics technology to curb gun violence (ZDNet)

"When we launch our product next year it will be 'ShotSpotter ready.' We call it 'ShotSpotter ready' because the city still needs to go to ShotSpotter and say, 'Hey, we want to turn on this service," Ashe said. "We are already integrating ShotSpotter into nodes. This is the next generation."

Current's sensors in smart streetlights will also have environmental, parking, and traffic nodes to provide data to cities for real-time analysis. The sensors already had a gunshot detection node being added, but it was missing some of the essential elements that ShotSpotter provides, including the ability to instantly calculate where the gunshot came from and how many shooters there are, Ashe said.

"We talked about ShotSpotter putting their technology on our node. That way when we deploy our sensors throughout a city, the city can literally turn on a switch through the ShotSpotter app and get gunshot detection in a much broader coverage than just the gun violence area of a city. It expands the entire gun detection network," Ashe explained.

ShotSpotter has a new mobile app that extends ShotSpotter with real-time gunfire alerts so that police officers will have access to the service beyond the dispatch office or squad car.

Ralph Clark, CEO of ShotSpotter, said, "The thing we've come to know about gun violence is it's significantly underrecorded. Where we're deployed we know that about 80% of gunfire does not get reported by traditional means such as 911. Even when those calls do come in, they come in 20-30 minutes after the shots are fired."

"We completely changed that narrative by reporting on all outdoor gunfire. Instead of 10-20%, we report 100%, and we send a very precise location and in near-real time and we're providing context, such as multiple rounds being fired or a multiple shooter situation, which is a critically important aspect," Clark said.

The way the device works, Clark explained, is to "think of a sensor as a computer with a couple of additional components on it. A GPS chip and a machine-to-machine cellular chip on it to provide communication to cloud-based infrastructure. It obviously has a couple of microphones on it, analog and digital converters, a processor, storage, and memory. It's a traditional computer platform. The most important component is the time stamp that comes from the GPS chip because it gives us very precise time in a very precise location."

SEE: Video: ShotSpotter sensors listen for gunshots (CBS News)

ShotSpotter operates in 90 cities including large cities such as Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., as well as mid-sized and smaller cities throughout the world. It recently announced new coverage for seven cities: Miami-Dade county (Fla.), San Diego (Calif.), San Antonio (Texas), Salinas (Calif.), Hillsborough (Fla.), Goldsboro (N.C.), and Cape Town, South Africa. There's also newly expanded coverage for seven cities already using the gunfire technology, including New York, Chicago, Fresno (Calif.), and Denver.

Birmingham, Alabama has been using ShotSpotter for nine years in an eight square mile area of the city, and has recently expanded its gunfire detection area to cover a full 20 square miles.

"ShotSpotter is a critical tool in our law enforcement operations. In fact, the ShotSpotter system is now part of our DNA in regards to reducing gun violence and improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods," said Birmingham Chief of Police A. C. Roper.

"The ShotSpotter system is now part of our DNA in regards to reducing gun violence and improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods." Birmingham Chief of Police A. C. Roper

The technology is also used in non-traditional city deployments, such as at Kruger National Park in South Africa, where it can protect against poaching. The sensors in Kruger National Park use solar and battery power with fewer sensors per square mile than in an urban environment. Despite the use of fewer sensors, the technology still identified two poaching incidents at Kruger; in one case, the poacher was arrested, and in the other incident, the poacher was not caught, but a baby rhinoceros was saved after his mother was stolen.

Ashe said the gunshot detection sensors on the smart streetlights from Current can also detect other noise levels, and in the future will detect things such as glass breaking, car crashes, and spray paint.

"All of this means we are extracting a very unique set of metadata. Heard a gunshot, what do we do with that? Heard glass break, what do we do with that?" Ashe said, explaining that the metadata can be used to build apps to correlate with the information being gathered.

"There are a couple of companies looking at taking the ShotSpotter data and cross correlating it with the camera sensors and with the pedestrian and vehicle metadata so that we can learn more about where did this shooter come from, where did they go, did anyone escape, is there anyone on the ground. We can give more information than anyone ever had before," Ashe said.

The top 3 takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. ShotSpotter's gunshot detection technology is in place in 90 cities around the world, in both urban areas and more remote locales.
  2. ShotSpotter is working with Current by GE to include its technology in sensors embedded in the smart streetlights produced by GE Lighting.
  3. Metadata can be extracted from the sensors to provide context to a gunshot, such as the number of shooters, where they are located, and when it happened.

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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