It's the stuff of sci-fi action flicks, but you'll need the skill of a softball pitcher to deploy the latest high-tech surveillance gadget. It's called the Eye Ball R1, a wireless camera and microphone secreted in a baseball-sized casing. The Eye Ball can be tossed into a crime scene to give police watching a tiny TV screen embedded in a handheld unit a 360-degree view of what the bad guys are up to.
Marketed in North America by the newly formed Remington Technologies Division of Remington Arms Co., the Eye Ball was developed in cooperation with the Israeli military by ODF Optronics Ltd., a Tel Aviv company. For $4,800, buyers get a kit that contains two Eye Balls, a training ball, and a display unit, as well as a number of accessories. The first deliveries will made this spring.
Remington sells the device to law-enforcement and government agencies only. "We want to keep it in the hands of the good guys and not find it being used at shopping malls by the wrong people in the wrong situation," Remington Technologies director Asher Gendelman says. "We want to avoid that completely."
Dangers associated with crime situations such as sieges are magnified by the unknown: the number of perpetrators and hostages, their location, and weaponry, says Rockingham County, N.C., Sheriff Sam Page, whose officers tested the Eye Ball (see promotional video). "Having the advantage of surprise is one of the most important things you can do as far as having a successful operation," Page says in a telephone interview. "If you can see what's behind that door, what's down the hallway, or what's in the next room--knowing where the bad guy is at and finding him before he finds you--gives you that extra edge."
Besides being tossed, the Eye Ball--encased in composite rubber and weighing 1-14 pounds, about four times the weight of a baseball--can be placed on a pole or dangled on a line to let authorities peer around corners, over fences, up and down stairwells, and in attics. When tossed or rolled, the device is designed to end upright, allowing the operator to remotely direct it toward a specific target, capturing a 55-degree horizontal and 41-degree vertical field of view. It can revolve four times a minute. Operation of the personal display pad, which features a 6.4-inch color screen, is intuitive.
The Eye Ball's omnidirectional camera has night-vision capabilities with its near-infrared illumination up to 27 feet. It can take video up to 75 feet away and record audio from up to 15 feet away. Its signal can be transmitted as far as 600 feet. The wireless audio and video transmission operates on a 2.4-GHz frequency; the remote controls operate at 928 MHz.
Page envisions the Eye Ball being deployed by police negotiators when someone threatens suicide. Often armed, people who threaten harm to themselves can end up injuring or killing officers who want to help, the sheriff says. "You can see who you're talking to remotely and not subject yourself to dangers," he says.
The device also can be used in emergencies such as building and mine collapses, Gendelman says, and rescuers can deploy the Eye Ball in tight spaces to search for victims. As the technology matures, Gendelman sees the development of similar devices with sensors that can, for instance, sniff out a dangerous chemical substance in an enclosed area.
How tough is the Eye Ball? "It's police-proof and police-smart," Page says, meaning the device can take a beating while maintaining its effectiveness, as well as being simple to operate. It can be dropped from a second-story window or flung against a concrete wall without being damaged, Gendelman says. Officers who've tested the device expect to use the Eye Balls several times a month. Each Eye Ball should be able to be used for at least 25 deployments, Gendelman says. The company warrants the product for one year.
With its high-tech capabilities, police have discovered a very low-tech, albeit important, application for the Eye Ball. In tests, some officers used the rugged Eye Ball as a so-called breacher, an object--often a rock--used to knock out thick windows. "It's not intended to be used as a breacher," Gendelman says. "They should use the training Ball instead. Then they should throw in the camera."