From the legendary Los Angeles Police Department to a Las Vegas school district, one Aussie tech company is on the cusp of a boom with a new virtual reality system that promises to revolutionise policing and STEM education.
XReality Group, a small cap ASX-listed company, announced this week it had secured a three-month trial with the LAPD to show off its Operator XR system.
The VR headset tech allows police to train in an unlimited number of high-risk and complex scenarios, from plane hostage rescues and building clearances to active shooter emergencies.
For Kim Hopwood, XReality’s chief of products and technology, the “big differentiator” with Operator XR is that it permits an end user without technical experience to create an endless array of scenarios and drop in new floorplans and role players within minutes.
“Reality-based training – it’s quite complex and very difficult to recreate real-life scenarios, especially something like an active shooter event because you need a lot of role players,” he told NCA NewsWire.
XReality Group was founded in 2011 by ex-Australian Special Forces operators and police officers. Picture: Supplied
“But in VR, you can recreate those scenarios really easily and add in as many role players as you like.
“We’ve designed the system so non-IT people that are your end operators, your tactical operators, can design literally unlimited scenarios.
“You can drop in furniture, you can drop in role players … you can role play hostages, and so you can fit over a million different scenarios on a single tablet, and those scenarios can be created by a customer within five minutes.”
The company was founded by ex-Australian Special Forces operators and specialist police officers and Mr Hopwood said the design of its VR offering flowed from real-world experience rather than from “geeks” trying to imagine what might work for the law-enforcement and military markets.
“We can integrate into an operational weapon, like an M4 or AR-15 rifle,” Mr Hopwood said.
“We can take out all the working parts of that rifle – it renders the rifle inert but allows the user to train on their own weapon, which we then track in VR and drop in some equipment into it that allows it to recoil so it feels realistic, and for specialist units, that is quite important because they will all have their weapons configured differently, with different laser set-ups, light set-ups, different optics and even different triggers. So all of that is of great importance to the military and tactical police customer, which is why LAPD Swat was really interested in it.”
A protester puts a flower in the pocket of an LAPD officer during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd in Hollywood, California on June 2, 2020. The LAPD will trial XReality’s VR tech for three months. Picture: Agustin Paullier / AFP)
A team from XReality flew to Los Angeles in September last year to showcase the tech and the three-month trial kicks off this month.
Martin Beck from LAPD Swat said his officers were “looking forward” to training with the new system.
“This trial will help us understand how technology can complement our current training programs and enhance the public safety outcomes,” he said.
Mr Hopwood said the “mixed reality” world of the virtual and the real would deliver a slew of safety gains for the public and the police.
“A big focus of the system is helping officers de-escalate scenarios,” he said.
“It’s quite difficult for younger police officers to be exposed to high-risk and stressful scenarios, and when they are in those situations for the first time, it is much better to be in those scenarios in VR to be able to learn, to get exposure to those scenarios, so they can be prepared to make the right decisions in the real world.”
The Sydney-based $17m company counts Western Australian Police as a major customer and Mr Hopwood said the company would focus its expansion plans on the US law-enforcement market, with a US-based team of five already crisscrossing the country to show off Operator XR to prospective customers.
“The US is our focus, just because of the scale, not only in the population, but the way that the agencies are designed over there,” he said.
“There are 18,000 police agencies in the US because they are organised by city and county as well as at state and federal levels.”
A sheriff’s office in Colorado has taken up the system and Mr Hopwood said a school district in Clark County Nevada, which houses Las Vegas, used the company’s tech to train students in crime scene analysis.
XReality Group chief of products and technology Kim Hopwood. Picture: Supplied
“We can place forensic evidence on the ground, or the walls, be it blood, tyre tracks, DNA evidence, shell casings, so the students can do that themselves or the teacher can design the scenarios themselves and then the students can go around and learn in this interactive environment,” he said.
“That is going to unlock a whole new market for us as well.”
The release of Apple’s Vision Pro headset suggests mixed reality could soon enter the mainstream and it’s something Mr Hopwood expects to happen.
“Everything is moving towards a mixed reality environment,” he said.
“Look at the Apple Vision Pro … the concept of that is you can interact with the real world but then also overlay a virtual world.
“Being able to blend real and virtual is just going to get more and more integrated.”