The New Technology Revitalizing Safety

The Sound Grenade in blue

Forget the unease of walking to your car after a late night of classes or festivities. RoboCopp is a tech start up from Sam Mansen and Jill turner, who share a vision of preventing crime before it happens.

“In the future technology will be so advanced that the probability of you getting caught in a crime is a 100 percent,” says Turner. “That’s how advanced technology is. Our vision is kind of this utopian future where crime is non-existent, and that is kind of where the name comes from.”

According to Mansen the name has no relation to popular film of the same title, RoboCop. RoboCopp seeks to combine “a robot and police officer,” says Mansen. “Our futuristic technology can contribute so much to crime prevention that eventually you’re going to have a crime rate of zero percent. We really think that will be the case. Sensors will be so advanced, cameras will be so advanced, guns will be so advanced that your chances of getting caught anytime you commit a crime are 100 percent. In other words, getting away with a crime — a violent crime that is — is zero percent.” Mansen predicts this future happening within twenty years. When asked how this might be possible, Mansen explains the two factors of committing a crime: something to gain and “getting away with it”. RoboCopp’s focus on eliminating the chancing of getting away with a crime is what they believe to be the best way of eradicating it altogether. Mansen calls attention to Singapore with the deterrence method via increased surveillance.

“When you look at police officers who carry body cams, complaints have gone down by over 80 percent. That is no surprise. No surprise whatsoever. Technology is nudging us into behaving morally.”

“I think [technology] is getting cheaper and cheaper every day. It’s getting more affordable for most countries to have these basic technological crime prevention measures. I think most countries will be able to afford basic surveillance. Every year it gets cheaper for us to make body cams and personal alarms. Economically speaking it will be very affordable.”

The personal alarm from RoboCopp is a discreet device. If you saw it, you might mistake it for a USB drive with a square face. However, the top of the “USB” is a pin that you would pull to release a 120 db alarm, “which can be heard up to 300 feet away,” says Turner. Although the device is open to the public, many students have taken to the device, carrying the Sound Grenade on their keychains. Once the pin is removed, the alarm will sound for 30 minutes until it eventually dies out. The device is reusable within the 30 minutes, meaning after the pin is removed, you can reinsert the pin and save it for later use. Once the battery is depleted, the device would need to be replaced. According to Mansen, if used in an emergency, RoboCopp will replace the device, and if you never use the Sound Grenade the device should last up to five years.

“Recently a UC Berkley student was walking to her car from a train station and two men approached asking for her money and claiming they had a gun. And she just had the device on her keys and pulled it. They just take off running immediately. We’ve had a lot of these kinds of stories where students are directly confronted with someone or they’re being followed and they feel nervous. They pull the alarm and they see people running away.”

The device runs for $15.99, which is a part of the company goal to provide affordable personal safety for students. RoboCopp is currently working on their next device, the Robo Ranger which is an upgraded Sound Grenade that alerts the police from wherever you are.

“When you make someone aware that they’ll get caught in what they are doing, that’s the best deterrence,” says Turner.

The sound grenade is available for purchase via the RoboCopp website or Amazon.

Information systems professor recognized for research on mobile tech

Professor Eusebio Scornavacca moved from New Zealand to Baltimore only a year ago. However, his research on mobile information technology and how it’s applied in business has taken him around the world, and has earned him some recognition in the process.

Scornavacca, the John and Margaret Thompson Professor of Management Information Systems in the Merrick School of Business, was recognized during the 13th annual International Conference on Mobile Business in London this past June. He was declared to be one of the top four researchers in the world for his research papers on mobile IT, based on both the number of his published articles as well as their impact. Scornavacca explained that when he was doing research on online commerce (e-commerce) in the late ’90s, he envisioned what we’re now accustomed to today in our jobs and our lives.

“When I saw some of the devices that were coming out that had data capability, I said, ‘The future of e-commerce will be on mobile devices.’ So that kind of got my attention to say, ‘I should not be focusing my study on the desktop e-commerce, but how mobile devices will eventually unleash the capability of electronic commerce,’” Scornavacca said.

His thoughts about how e-commerce would lead him to receiving a scholarship from the Japanese Ministry of Science and Technology in 2001, and he became a field researcher at Yokohama National University. At the time, he noticed that Americans were using their cell phones as just that: a phone. However, he noticed that the Japanese were already using their cell phones for much more, including typing and browsing the Web, and even ordering products online. Scornavacca described how in Japan, people first started using the Internet on their phones.

“Over there, the wired Internet was not so widely adopted by the time the phones were available, with Internet,” Scornavacca said. “So people’s expectations and people’s use of it was substantially higher because they were actually learning to use this new tool with their phones.”

That was in comparison to here in the U.S., where people got frustrated because their desktop experience wasn’t translating to devices such as Blackberries and PDAs. Scornavacca said it was interesting to see how the Japanese people unleashed e-commerce through time and space with their mobile devices.

“What was interesting over there was basically starting […] to see people on the train messaging each other or see people scheduling meetings while they were on the street,” Scornavacca said. He added that about a decade ago, that wasn’t as common a sight as it is now.

What Scornavacca saw starting in Japan has now made its way around the world, including to the U.S., over the last 13 years. He says that he and his fellow researchers at the time were studying what was possible with data and Web-capable mobile devices, and that topics he wrote about in 2003 and 2004 are now available today. He considers a big milestone in the evolution of mobile technology the introduction of the first Apple iPhone.

“I tease that there is kind of a big milestone that I say ‘pre-iPhone’ and ‘post-iPhone.’ The pre-iPhone was when we had mainly cell phones that could operate as media devices, and the post-iPhone are media devices that could operate as cell phones,” Scornavacca said. He explained how that was the big shift in how we viewed cell phones, to the point that now, we view our smartphones as something that keeps us connected to both our jobs and our friends. However, he’s posed the question of whether or not we’re more productive, happier, and better off now that we can be connected all the time. He says one of his doctorate students in New Zealand is studying the relation between connectivity and productivity.

“So far, what I’ve learned about that, there are two things. First one that we have to learn how to operate in a ubiquitous environment; what I mean by ubiquitous, we’re 24-7 connected. So one of the things that we have to rethink: how do we behave or what are our expectations? How do we manage this continuous state of connectedness? The second thing, I believe we have what I like to call the ‘connectedness and productivity curve,’” Scornavacca explained, adding that the curve shows a point where people can be so connected to the point that their productivity starts declining because they’re busy responding to so many different streams of information.

He says the area of mobile IT is a great area to study right now to understand how businesses and individuals produce in a 24-7 connected environment.

Scornavacca said this is a “frontier” in the continuously evolving digital revolution. He adds that we need to think about information and technology today the way electricity was viewed by society in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially in light of how dependent we are on electricity today.