Coast Guard tests digital photo transmission

U.S. Coast Guard

Coast Guard first responders may soon be able to transmit photos directly from incident scenes to command centers.

A testing program has begun this month in San Francisco, Cal. to determine the effectiveness of combining wearable computers with digital photography in an On-Scene Photo Documentation Kit.

Officials for the Coast Guard expect to use real-time data from the kit to plan quicker responses to emergencies. Transmitted data also can be shared more efficiently with partners such as state and local law enforcement agencies.

Users of the kit, which is developed by Anteon Corp., operate a Canon EOS 10D digital camera. The camera has a 28-300 mm zoom lens, and is attached by cable to a one-and-a-half pound Xybernaut Mobile Assistant V wearable computer, worn in a shoulder bag.

The kit sends the photos to a secure command center Web site, also developed by Anteon, via a wireless commercial network. An integrated global positioning system tags each photo with the latitude and longitude of the incident's location.

Each time a photo is taken, the kit transmits the image without any need for keyboards or hands-on applications. System information is relayed to the user by the computer's digital voice through an earpiece, allowing for transmission verification and signal availability.

"We intend on using it by getting the digital photos rapidly back to the command center with minimum additional workload by field observers," said Jim Gynther of the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center in Groton, Conn. "Instead of going through long, elaborate processes, it could be done almost automatically."

Photos sent to the secure Web site — the Common Situation Display System — can be accessed by agencies with whom the Coast Guard wishes to share information.

The On-Scene kit has been well received by early users of the system, Gynther said.

"We've done exercises in the past and being able to get the digital pictures from port and port approaches has been very, very useful," he said. "It's a 'Picture's worth a thousand words' type of thing." The Coast Guard expects the demonstration phase to continue through the end of the year. Should the program be deemed a success, the Coast Guard's Command and Control Engineering Center, in Portsmouth, Va., would begin a nationwide implementation.

"The benefits are almost boundless for documenting a first-hand view of what's going on, whatever the incident may be," said Steve West, manager of Coast Guard operations for Anteon.

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