Motorola Solutions CTO talks innovation in crisis response

Image courtesy of Motorola Solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic has been such a disruptive force that it changed nearly every facet of how we do things. It negatively affected healthcare, business, travel, livelihoods, tourism, financial services, food systems, supply chains, and more.

Conversely, the crisis has also sparked a massive wave of technological innovation to address such disruptions.

To find out more about these advancements, Frontier Enterprise asked Dr Mahesh Saptharishi, Executive Vice President and CTO at Motorola Solutions, about how emerging technologies are being used in the wake of the pandemic, especially by governments and private organisations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Dr Saptharishi’s areas of focus include artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, computer vision, data analytics, sensor technologies, and distributed systems. Previously, he spent over four years as CTO of Avigilon, a Motorola Solutions subsidiary that provides integrated cloud and AI-powered solutions for video security.

You co-founded video analytics company VideoIQ back in 2007. What were the highlights there and what have been the most significant changes you’ve seen since then, specifically when it comes to intelligent analytics and video security?

At VideoIQ we were able to address the market by providing smart cameras embedded with intelligence and storage. That was quite a unique value proposition at the time because it meant you didn’t need to have onsite servers or access to the cloud in order to transport video content.

After Avigilon and VideoIQ came together, we were able to deliver a complete solution for automatically processing video content that combined the best elements of video intelligence with Avigilon’s highest-resolution camera hardware.

There have been significant advances in AI and video analytics technologies since then, especially in recent years. Now these technologies are having a profound impact on how organisations work by helping them to make sense of the masses of information and data that surround them.

In law enforcement, for example, it would be a daunting task for a person to have to sift through hours of video footage to find clues to support an investigation. Video analytics powered by AI can yield a filtered set of results quickly and effectively which can then be verified by a human.

In a high-pressure public safety environment, this can help to alleviate the burden on workers and present them with the data they need to make better and faster decisions.

Could you tell us more about the technological advancements being adopted by governments in APAC? How have these technologies improved crisis response and management overall?

The Asia-Pacific region is renowned for its strong culture of innovation and highly skilled science and engineering talent base.

Through our new global research study, Consensus for Change, we found that many public safety and enterprise organisations in the region applied innovation in remarkable ways to overcome many challenges caused by COVID-19.

Examples include rail operators, Singapore MRT and Malaysia MRT, which use a variety of technologies to keep their rail passenger services running safely and effectively. Both organisations depend on instant, team-based voice communication to manage and coordinate their daily services. They also use video analytics for tasks such as safely identifying passengers with elevated temperatures before they board trains to identify potential safety risks through proactive maintenance programs.

Police agencies in Australia are using automatic number plate recognition technology to quickly identify unauthorised vehicles at state borders to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 into communities.

Fire and Rescue New South Wales have employed innovative approaches to improve their firefighting response. This includes extending the reach of their mission-critical radio communications beyond traditional network boundaries for coverage in remote and rural environments.

Royal Malaysia Police are using a variety of advanced technologies to enhance public safety. This includes secure, digitally encrypted voice communications as well as video technologies including drones for threat prevention at border areas. This is helping to curb smuggling and cross-border crime.

A public safety agency in Taiwan also told us how it obtained valuable IoT (Internet of Things) data from its two-way radio network to identify potential security breaches at its facilities during lockdowns.

Collectively, the willingness of these organisations to innovate has not only helped them to overcome pandemic-induced challenges, but it has also set them for long term gains and to work more safely and productively every day.

How can governments and organisations ensure that these advancements are not abused, especially in this age of increased cyberthreats? How can these technologies remain effective while balancing ethics and privacy concerns?

A consistent global finding from our research study is that the public will not accept the deployment of new technologies unless it is used in ways that are fair, transparent, and inclusive. This also came through clearly with 75% of respondents in our global citizen survey saying they are only willing to trust organisations that hold their data and information if they protect it and use it responsibly.

When the public understands and trusts both the technologies being used and the objectives of service providers using them, they also become more willing to share their data. This helps to create even richer insights, better solutions, and ultimately – better outcomes for community safety overall.

With the pandemic leading many of us to embrace more digital technologies and skills, it’s understandable that some people will be concerned about their cybersecurity.

To remain effective, organisations need to demonstrate to the public and their customers that they have the right cybersecurity in place to protect citizens’ personal data. Organisations also need to continue consulting with the public. They need to clearly explain the benefits of their technology deployments and address any ethics and privacy concerns raised.

Legacy systems have always been a problem, even for the cost-and profit-focused private sector. How can governments overcome the challenge brought about by legacy systems and interoperability to ensure seamless and secure data sharing?

Although the communications systems used by public safety organisations and enterprises around the world have been used for some time, they took on even greater importance during the pandemic.

One common benefit described by many organisations was the ability of their mission-critical communication systems to support safe and contact-free operations.

To comply with COVID-19 work requirements, New Zealand’s City Forests used its radio communications system to share vital workflow information in the field. Forestry workers used to handle paper job dockets in the field, but now they are kept safe through contact-free communication.

Similarly, radio communication systems have been used to facilitate the curbside deliveries of goods and to manage safe occupancy levels and the flow of customers through retail stores.

Many organisations have also extended the reach of their mission-critical communication systems by integrating them with broadband to enable greater interoperability and data-sharing across workforces.

One example of that comes from the Boston Police Department which deployed a broadband push-to-talk solution within 72 hours of the first Great Lockdown. This enabled its frontline officers to continue working while staying securely connected to back-office support teams working from the safety of their homes.

Interoperability and data sharing across agencies is certainly a growing priority in many international markets. In Australia for example, defence forces are extending the reach of their radio networks to enable seamless and secure communication across state and federal borders.

While it is certainly imperative for governments to increase interoperability and data sharing, they also need to make changes in a judicious way to ensure their security standards are not compromised and data is protected.

What is the most interesting part about working as the CTO and EVP of Software Enterprise & Mobile Video at Motorola Solutions?

The most interesting and meaningful part of my job is working at the forefront of innovation to develop technologies to enhance safety, security, and productivity for public safety and commercial organisations.

Working with my talented team, I get to build on Motorola Solutions’ track record of creating next-generation solutions for those sectors.

That work includes making important advances in AI and data-driven technology, and embedding those developments within our mission-critical ecosystem that spans communications, video, and command centre software.

Creating integrated solutions across those platforms helps to enhance safety and improve efficiency for our customers.

For me, that’s a great honour and gives me a real sense of purpose and job satisfaction.