By Rick Morwick
When IUPUI professor Lou Lenzi was approached by students to assist with a technology project that would ultimately benefit the Carmel Police Dept., he gladly came on board.
“They asked me to serve as a mentor, providing guidance on organizing their ideas and shaping their final proposal into a viable business model for funding by the project organizer,” said Lenzi, a longtime Carmel resident and professor of practice in the School of Informatics and Computing. “The team is currently developing a series of prototypes in order to refine their concept and demonstrate real-world feasibility.”
The team, comprised of five IUPUI graduate students, developed a form of artificial intelligence technology called ZENEXT, a voice-command virtual assistant for hands-free communication for law enforcement. ZENEXT enhances communications between dispatchers and police officers.
“Think Alexa and Siri as two examples,” Lenzi said. “This same hands-free technology, when applied to the unique requirements of the patrol officer, will improve officer safety and increase their efficiency.”
For its efforts, the IUPUI team – which has worked closely with CPD throughout the development process – received $112,000 in grants from the National Institute of Standards and Technology for winning the organization’s national Tech to Protect Challenge. The team, whose members are Indianapolis residents Bhavani Prasad Rao Ejanthkar, Aamir Khan, Swarnamouli Majumdar, Mayur Srivastava and I Ting Tseng, won the competition in early May.
CPD, which joined the development process when Lenzi reached out to the department, is testing ZENEXT and providing feedback.
“The goal of the project is to give officers the freedom to use voice commands to accomplish everyday activities such as (computer-aided dispatch) entries, BMV inquiries, communicating with other officers and much, much more,” said Lt. James Semester, CPD public information officer. “The easiest way for me to explain it is that it’s like Alexa for cops.”
By virtue of the national award, the team is eligible to compete for another $70,000 in November in a competition sponsored by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology’s Public Safety Communications Research Division. The team is developing a series of prototypes to secure funding from outside investors to set up a business plan.