The battle for the ‘blue lamp’ dollar hots ups as prices tumble for incident recording tech discovers Eric Volkman [Tele.Volkman.2015.11.24]

A fast getaway car with gangsta white walls may not be enough for ‘robbers’ to avoid an arresting future thanks to new connectivity technology being marketed to today’s ‘cops’.

That’s because law enforcement, hitherto a steady but unspectacular segment of the connected car market, seems on the brink of experiencing a profound change.

This is being led by a company that has rapidly become a big player in the broader market for equipment used by police – TASER International. As its name suggests, the firm began as a producer and supplier of the eponymous non-lethal weapons.

These were an ‘electrifying’ success and on the back of this TASER International branched out into other product categories, most conspicuously with the body cameras that are becoming increasingly prevalent as police equipment – notably for London’s Metropolitan Police Force, which recently ordered 22,000 of them for its ‘bobbies’.

So it was perhaps inevitable that TASER International would move into one of the most durable items of law enforcement, the police car. This past October, the company announced a new in-car video solution specifically for cop cruisers called Axon Fleet.

This is an updated version of the type of video-and-record package that has been on the market for years. One key feature that makes Axon Fleet’s technology current is that it wirelessly pushes the recorded material to the cloud, via the company’s evidence.com online evidence management system. Another is its tight integration with other TASER International offerings like the body cameras; a user can activate all linked recording equipment from the company located within a certain radius.

But arguably the major draw of Axon Fleet is its price – $499 (£330) per vehicle. This covers the basic kit of two cameras, one that records from the front window, and one covering the rear seat area. The base price also includes a one-year warranty.

That amount is several orders of a magnitude lower than competing products. US company Digital Ally supplies not only law enforcement clients but fire departments and emergency medical service providers and is active in the in-cruiser segment of the market. Its latest solution, the DVM-800, retails for nearly $3,500 although, to be fair, that includes a warranty that stretches across two years.

Peer law enforcement tech specialist Watch Guard Video, which claims it is ‘the world’s #1 police video manufacturer’, packs more a bit more punch into its 4RE system, including an integrated, 200-gigabyte hard drive for recording purposes, plus a removable 16-gigabyte thumb drive, all backed by a one-year warranty. But this is pricey, at nearly $4,800 for the basic package. Upgrades to the hardware, software, and warranty length are available, and range from $199 to $785 apiece.

TASER International hasn’t (yet) publicly explained how it’s managing to keep Axon Fleet’s price point so low. This might very well have to do with evidence.com’s cloud storage, which is an integral component of the Axon Fleet solution. The company offers two storage plans, both charged monthly. The budget ‘Fleet basic’ costs $25 per month, and allows 100 GB of storage. $14 more gets clients the self-explanatory ‘Fleet unlimited’ option. Fleet unlimited also unlocks certain features of evidence.com’s Pro tier, and extends the warranty on the gear.

It’s very possible that the firm is selling the gear around, or even below, cost in order to gain a steady revenue stream from the storage fees. This would be a version of the classic ‘razors-and-blades’ business model wherein the core equipment is relatively inexpensive but one necessary part, or service, generates a series of future purchases.

Thus far, few if any competitors seem to be cutting those four-figure prices in order to keep pace with TASER International. They have a bit of time to make their solutions more competitive because Axon Fleet is still in the pre-order stage with delivery to begin in the first quarter of 2016, according to its makers.

So TASER International has a real chance to make like a thief-in-the-night and steal significant market share from its rivals.

But as far as the overall development of police in-car video systems is concerned, it’s irrelevant who ends up dominating the segment. With TASER International’s aggressive move, the price floor for these products has now dropped to the point where they almost have to considered by any law enforcement agency of reasonable size. Not only that, any product on the market will be expected to have a cloud storage option, and probably a means of linking with complimentary solutions as with TASER International’s body cameras, so the technology standard will advance.

Nearly since the advent of the cruiser, it’s been connected in basic ways – the CB radio, for one, is an early example. But it’s never been this wired and so networked. TASER International has ushered in a new era of the connected police car and its rivals are sure to join in the scrum. The cruiser is about to become smarter than it ever was. The bad guys had better beware.

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