President Obama has announced $263 million in funding for law enforcement and police departments to purchase wearable body cameras. The funding will cover procurement of the wearable camera hardware, the software including secure storage of the video content, and pay for officer training. Of the total amount, $75 million is to be used specifically to purchase cameras, which is expected to result in the deployment of 50,000 new cameras in the field.
This comes in light of the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown and the need for more first-person video evidence, especially in cases like Brown shooting where there were multiple witness versions of the event.
Taser, Digital Ally and Vievu are the primary companies that provide wearable cameras for security purposes. Taser and Digital Ally, both of which are publicly traded companies on the NASDAQ, have seen their stock prices rise to an all-time high as a result of the Obama announcement.
The United States has around 780,000 police and law enforcement officers, according to the 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. As of today, there are only a few thousand of these wearable cameras in the field, with many of them in trials in police departments. The Obama boost would still mean that less than 10% of the police workforce will have cameras attached to their bodies, but it provides a jumpstart to the nascent market.
Wearable cameras for security and law enforcement should see a higher adoption rate in the coming years compared to consumer wearable cameras. There is a general acceptance about the usability and value that these cameras provide both to police and the general public, unlike most other consumer versions. As demonstrated in the various field trials, these cameras lead to a more responsible behavior, and lead to a lower false conviction rate on both sides.
Except for GoPro, which had a successful IPO in 2014 and has revenues of $1 billion, wearable cameras for consumers haven’t gotten very far. GoPro’s success can be attributed to their niche focus on sports and extreme adventure activities. Also, these are short time-capture cameras, unlike lifelogging cameras like MeCam, Narrative and Autographer. Lifelogging cameras haven’t particularly been flying off the shelves, the reason being most people aren’t clear about their value. GoPro, on the other hand, excels at utility, giving adventure and thrill-seekers unique and specific tools for capturing special moments.
The lesson for wearable camera makers is that unless you provide a context and a specific use case for what the camera is going to be used for, don’t expect consumers or Wall Street to pay attention. Privacy concerns have been touted as the big issue for wearable cameras, but for a specific context and utility, that concern is largely mitigated. Now for the hard part – to find more of these specific use cases!