Archive for June 4th, 2012


Calling the Shots

Post from Jeffrey Winters:

Jeffrey Winters

We’ve written a couple times about the technology to locate gunfire based on triangulating the sound the shots make (see Tech Focus, June 2009, and Computing, February 2011). That last time, Jean Thilmany was writing about a Mountain View, Calif., company called ShotSpotter Inc., which was running trials of its system in Broward County, Fla.; the technology was able to determine the location of a gunshot to within a few feet.

The May 29 issue of The New York Times carries an update of the ShotSpotter system, which is now in use in 70 cities around the country. The system is fast enough that the time between the shots being detected and police officers arriving on the scene can be less than four minutes. The contrast to the traditional way of dealing with reported gunfire is stark:

Sgt. Chris Bolton of the Oakland, Calif., Police Department, which has installed ShotSpotter in high-crime neighborhoods in East and West Oakland, said that before the system was in place, “a patrol officer would receive a gunshot call from the community and you could spend up to 30 minutes driving within, I would say, three to four blocks of that location, just to make sure there isn’t a victim in need of assistance, a crime ongoing or any evidence.”

City streets have been under remote surveillance for some time. Closed circuit television cameras monitor public spaces in London, New York, and elsewhere, and ShotSpotter is just an extension of that into the audible realm. But it might strike people as being more intrusive, especially if it is able to detect individual conversations. There’s one instance of that reported in the Times article, and a lawyer involved in the case asks, “If the police are utilizing these conversations, then the issue is, where does it stop?”

That’s not an engineering question. It’s something to which every citizen needs to have an answer.

The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

June 2012

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