The Making of Axon Body 3: Video Magic in Tampere, Finland
Our latest body camera, Axon Body 3, is launching later this year. As we get geared up for it to hit the streets, we wanted to share some stories from our path to launch. Today's post covers some of the breakthrough advancements in image quality. Check back every couple weeks for new inside peeks from the team.
It all started with a casual conversation in the spring of 2018, on a brisk day in Tampere, Finland. It went something like this:
“Sergeant Jones* said when he's reviewing body camera footage, he wants to be able to see the details in a single frame. Right now sometimes it's blurry when people are moving too fast,” said Jason Hartford, Axon's VP of DEMS & Devices, showing a couple examples on his laptop. “He wished it could be like a photograph instead.”
“That's interesting feedback,” said Juha Alakarhu, Axon's VP of Imaging and the leader of our newly-acquired Finland imaging team.
Then they went out for mustamakkara and moved on to other topics.
Jason had nearly forgotten about the exchange until a few months later, when he was once again visiting the team in Finland, and Juha said, “Come see this. I think it will help Sergeant Jones.” He proceeded to show Jason a new algorithm the team had created that shows a single video frame in vivid detail during playback, the blurriness nearly gone. Jason's mind was blown.
Juha and his team had been quietly confronting the issue of motion blur with a series of experiments and tests, recording themselves in graffiti-covered Finnish overpasses and custom-built imaging labs filled with props to help them see how the camera would record different surfaces and colors (plus a teddy bear or two). They are wizards when it comes to imaging technology, and what began as a high-level conversation about improving video quality had turned into a little bit of magic. But they weren't just making magic for magic's sake; they were careful to focus on only the most meaningful improvements for our law enforcement customers.
You see, usually there's a trade-off between minimizing motion blur, and the camera's performance in low light conditions, when the majority of police video is recorded (about 58% is recorded when the sun isn't out, according to our analysis). Our Finland team was able to focus on what would matter most to officers: pull off a combination of great low-light performance and incredibly clear imagery, all without negatively impacting other aspects of the camera like battery life.
The left side shows a stillframe without the algorithm, and the right shows it with the algorithm in Axon Body 3.
Speaking of low-light: in other conversations our product team has had with agency partners, the issue of lighting is always something that rises to the top. In developing the Axon Body 3, the team was especially thoughtful about which technology to select to provide the best possible low light experience for our partners. They ran through many options for things like the image sensor and optics, as well as image processing and tuning. See, Body 3 had to perform better than previous models, but not better than the human eye, as officers don't always have the benefit of watching the captured video, and have to rely on what they see and perceive at the time. So the team spent a lot of time a lot of time testing the camera in different low light conditions and comparing the video to what they could see with their own eyes. Ultimately, the team went with the combination that was going to work best for typical law enforcement conditions and produce a realistic presentation of the scene. So although you can certainly use your Body 3 for sightseeing around Tampere, it was purpose-built for police scenarios like going from a dark exterior to a home interior, adjusting quickly like the human eye and clearly capturing the details of the environment at hand.
Again, the left shows motion blur and greater darkness, while the right shows more detail with greater clarity of the Axon Body 3.
In short, the quality of evidence that will be captured by Axon Body 3 is higher than ever before. That can mean the difference between a criminal being rightly convicted vs. wrongly set free, or an officer being celebrated as a hero vs. castigated as a bad actor. So while it may have started as just a brief conversation, we take this stuff incredibly seriously and are looking forward to hearing how better video impacts your officers and communities.
So please, keep the feedback coming on this or any other Axon products you use. You never know what side comment or casual mention will inspire some truly magical advancements.