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The growing need for crisis-response technology brings about innovative solutions. Artificial intelligence technology that works similarly to Siri or Alexa will help police officers conduct their work more safely and efficiently. The US National Institutes of Standards and Technology, or NIST, has awarded $70,000 to a team of recent graduates from the School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI and the School of Science at IUPUI for the technology. 

Along with funds previously awarded, NIST has granted the team a total of $112,500 under the Tech to Protect Challenge, a competition sponsored by the institute’s Public Safety Communications Research Division.

Zenext is a voice-command virtual assistant based on Google Assistant that helps law enforcement conduct critical tasks hands-free. “As technologies like artificial intelligence and voice automation mature, it’s important to tailor their capabilities to specific tasks and professions,” said Sonny Kirkley, from  the School of Informatics and Computing and an affiliate of the IU Crisis Technologies Innovation Lab, who is one of the team’s mentors. “Zenext uses voice technology to bridge the gap between police officers and dispatchers and provides connectivity to important emergency agencies like fire departments and EMS.”

The technology also reduces the risk of distracted driving because, for example, officers can look up license plate numbers through voice command while pursuing drivers. It also automates the process of entering the same information into multiple forms and gives police the power to quickly share critical information using hands-free email or radio communications, which is not possible with current equipment.

The improvement of officer safety and “just-in-time assistance” that reduces time-on-task through natural language processing was a clear win-win for Zenext, the program manager Majumdar Swarnamouli said.

“I think our collaboration with law enforcement enhanced the authenticity of our project,” she added. “You need to talk to real people about real problems if you want to add value. Along with technology, I think the biggest part of our success in the competition was the human-centered design.”

Over the next six months, the team aims to advance their prototype to the beta test stage, including working with a hardware manufacturer to integrate voice-command software and cloud technology into a custom device and with the Carmel Police Department to employ the technology in field tests, according to news.iu.edu.