Chances are you’ve never heard of the iPhone app One Force Tracker, one of the coolest apps never to appear on the App Store. The iPhone app,
created by defense contractor Raytheon for the U.S. military late last year, helps soldiers keep tabs with each other via GPS during missions and identifies
known sniper sites and fallback positions on a map.
Raytheon has hired Mike Bostic, a retired assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), to bring the app to the home front. Perhaps
soon, SWAT teams will be using a version of the app on the mean streets of southern California.
“The public safety market and the military market are actually needing the same capabilities,” says Bostic, director of west coast operations for civil
communications at Raytheon.
Not merely for Foursquare fun
and games, location-based apps are beginning to tackle real emergencies. For instance, earlier this summer, patrol boats with the Emergency
Management Division of Santa Rosa County Florida began using TimeTrack Gold, an app developed by Xora, running on the Sprint wireless network that helps boat
operators record and transmit oil spill locations via GPS.
Nevertheless, iPhones and mobile apps are a pretty big step for the public sector, which is often considered a laggard in technology adoption. What
about the fancy tech gear in futuristic cop movies like Minority Report? Nope, says Bostic.
During his three-decade police career, Bostic wore many hats at the LAPD, including overseeing some IT functions and communications. “In police
work, we’re probably 20 years behind in technological capability,” he says. “We’re using the same handheld radio that costs many thousands of dollars
but has a thousand times less capability than the cell phone that I have on my hip.”
SWAT Team Tool
With One Force Tracker, though, SWAT teams will be able to storm buildings without running into each other, he says. Bostic envisions a leader
watching up to 20 officers moving on a grid in real time and then directing them where to go via texting or voice.
On a stakeout or surveillance operation, One Force Tracker would be ideal, Bostic says. Imagine undercover officers milling around with an iPhone
or Droid (One Force Tracker also has a Droid version) and earbuds, while secretly communicating with each other and knowing the locations of other
officers. “Everyone has an iPhone so you don’t stick out,” Bostic says.
Some hurdles remain before the iPhone helps collar criminals. For starters, Ratheon needs to tune One Force Tracker for law enforcement and
develop a commercial server system. Then there’s the issue of AT&T coverage and reliability — “I know the skepticism of firemen and police,”
Bostic says, “they don’t like the drop-off of digital.”
Nevertheless, Bostic says, “cops are chomping at the bit” to get One Force Tracker after he showed it to some of his friends. “A couple of [police]
departments have already bought iPhones and are waiting for us,” he says. “We’re hoping to get some test units out to some agencies in the next few
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.