A Manchester firm is hoping to use virtual reality to better equip police officers to handle emergency situations like the Manchester bombing.
Sean Murphy is the owner of Evidential, a successful start-up based in the Sharp Project which presents electronic evidence in courtrooms around Europe.
The firm has a unique mix of former police staff, forensic specialists, designers, illustrators and developers but also taps into an extensive network of experts when needed.
It recently produced an interactive VR experience of a fictional crime scene – which you can watch below – in-house to show how the technology could be used in court cases.
That project was part-funded by Creative England specifically for exhibition at the BBC Digital Cities event and received great acclaim. However VR cannot yet be used in UK courtrooms – and Murphy has a “bigger aim” for the tech.
“We tried to push the boundaries a little bit with the VR crime scene, but after the feedback we got I realised it could completely change our business focus,” he told BusinessCloud after we tried out the virtual scenario.
“The initial idea was for it to be another tool for us to use to serve the legal system, like 3D printers or drones – so if we got the right case for its use, we could introduce it.
“But I realised what an important tool it could be for the training of police officers to handle emergency situations – a horrible example where it could have helped is the recent Manchester bombing, where you could identify what’s happened, or prepare for such an incident ahead of time, in a virtual space.”
Evidential has applied for Government assistance via an Innovate UK funding competition for enabling and emerging technologies. Innovate UK will announce on 4th August which companies will be awarded grants from a £15 million pot to develop projects.
“Every police station could have a VR headset and it could be used constantly to give officers experience to help with situations like the Manchester bombing in advance,” he explained.
“Officers can go immerse themselves in the virtual space and get an idea of the space before they actually go into it. They might then realise that there’s room behind a counter, for example, where someone could be hiding. They’d have much better spatial awareness of important entrances and exits.
“There have been instances where police officers have gone into raids and ended up fatally injured because they didn’t have this prior knowledge.”
As well as saving lives it could also save the police huge amounts of money, according to Murphy.
“A few months ago they closed down the Trafford Centre for half a day so Greater Manchester Police could do a training exercise. It will have had a significant cost and trained a relatively small amount of emergency service personnel,” he said.
“There were officers doing their regular job who couldn’t come off duty to do the training, while Greater Manchester Police also received calls from the unaware members of the public – ‘I think there’s something horrible happening at the Trafford Centre’ – so you’ve got that social impact as well.
“They did something similar on the Tube system where they closed off parts of London and got actors involved – all at huge cost. We believe we can achieve all this in a VR headset.”
Modern connectivity would enable worldwide collaboration which could improve the response performance of forces everywhere, according to Murphy, who hopes to work with University of Salford and a PlayStation game development company on the project if funding is secured.