With both Taser International and VieVu here, Seattle is becoming the nerve center for digital storage of the nation’s rapidly growing volume of body camera videos and other recorded evidence.
The Arizona-based maker of Taser stunning devices is having its annual shareholders’ meeting in Seattle next month. The reason might shock you.
Data in the cloud and body cameras on police officers are now a bigger growth market for Taser International than its sometimes-controversial “conducted electrical weapons,” and Seattle is its center for that digital work.
Taser International is a top player in the body-camera business, with Amazon Web Services providing its data storage. Another leading provider of body cameras is locally based VieVu, which utilizes Microsoft’s Azure government cloud-storage platform.
Between the two, “it’s by far the majority of the market,” said Hadi Partovi, a former Microsoft general manager and now a member of Taser’s board of directors.
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So Seattle is effectively the nerve center for digitally warehousing and accessing the nation’s rapidly growing volume of recorded law-enforcement information on everything from routine traffic stops to police shootings.
“What’s exciting for me is to see Seattle play a leading role in something that’s going to change the fabric of society,” said Partovi, who has backed or advised a wide range of technology companies and now runs the Seattle-based nonprofit code.org.
Taser’s Seattle unit, known as evidence.com, has 43 employees and 17 job openings for building Taser’s digital infrastructure. It’s in the Metropolitan Park complex, with two other well-known companies that plopped software-development offices here — Facebook and HBO.
The May 18 shareholder meeting will be the first that isn’t held in Taser’s hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz., says company spokeswoman Sydney Siegmeth.
Taser co-founder and CEO Patrick Smith told analysts in a February conference call that “these cloud-hosted business models have ripped through industry after industry.” He’s betting that police data storage will soon be among them.
Already, according to Smith, a new file is uploaded to evidence.com every four seconds. More than 5,000 law-enforcement agencies — a quarter of the U.S. total — use Taser’s digital warehouse; 2,500 have purchased its cameras.
Revenues for the Axon cameras and evidence.com were just one-eighth of its $149 million in Taser weapon sales last year. But the camera and digital business grew 83 percent from the previous year, while its traditional business rose just 14 percent.
The company is shifting from selling its equipment to a subscription model that covers Tasers, body cameras and digital evidence storage. The Los Angeles Police Department recently signed on as the debut customer, at $99 per officer per month, according to a JP Morgan report. It added, “We are encouraged that a department with the size of LAPD trusts a third-party to store and manage its data, which we believe could sway other large departments evaluating body cameras.”
Seattle’s police department just completed a 90-day test of Taser’s Axon body and eyeglass cameras; next is a test of the VieVu equipment.
Taser says bookings, or potential future revenue, for its camera systems and evidence.com jumped fourfold last year to $57.1 million.
Both VieVu and Taser claim to be the market leader. VieVu was founded six years ago by former Seattle police Officer Steve Ward. He also did a stint as Taser’s vice president for marketing and international sales, and says its cameras are being used by more than 3,900 U.S. police agencies and also in 16 other countries.
Since it’s private, VieVu doesn’t disclose revenues, but spokeswoman Kiersten Walker says it has about 20 employees.
What’s clear is that since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson last fall triggered widespread protests, the pressure to record police encounters has entered a new phase that intensifies with every incident.
“When you see things like the South Carolina shooting of Walter Scott, you wonder why you would give a gun to an officer who might shoot someone and not give them a camera,” Partovi says. He adds that five years ago, when he joined the Taser board, “It seemed like a good idea, but now it’s the top headline in the news.”
Siegmeth says the cameras can be set to download automatically, ensuring the information is safeguarded from tampering or erasing. Other information — dashboard cameras, interview-room recordings, cellphone photos — can also be integrated into the evidence.com system, she says.
“Today the car-camera evidence is stored in the basement,” says Partovi, “and somebody has a cabinet full of VHS tapes and DVDs” that must be delivered by hand to prosecutors or a courtroom; with digital warehousing, that can be as simple as emailing a link.
He says building the system in the cloud ensures more robust security, and better tracking of access, than with a personal computer sitting on a police department desk.
Taser’s traditional equipment, of course, has often made headlines of its own over inappropriate uses and even fatalities.
Smith told analysts the body cameras and data storage are helping sell Taser’s electrical devices, which now come with built-in recording systems.
“The cameras answer the major concern you would have about Tasers in a large city … the pushback from various nongovernment organizations that might have concerns about, are the police going to potentially misuse the Taser?” he said.
Storing mountains of sensitive police data in the cloud comes with its own concerns.
Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU, says having a private company hold the data raises questions of security and privacy that need to be addressed by proper policies and sufficient transparency.
“Ideally we’d like to see the footage subject to end-to-end encryption,” to protect it from prying eyes both inside and outside the agencies and companies handling it, Stanley says. He says he’s asked Taser whether its data is fully encrypted but has never gotten an answer.
Partovi says questions about how the data is stored and when it can be shared or erased must all be dealt with based on local and state laws and department policies.
“Those aren’t obstacles,” he says, “they are part of the rollout.”
— Rami Grunbaum: email@example.com
Rebranding lowly robusta coffee bean
As the market for high-quality java reaches new heights, the world’s most pedestrian coffee variety is itching for a makeover.
Robusta is the lowly, bitter bean that is the heart and soul of cheap canned coffee, and makes up a lot of coffee production in Vietnam, West Africa and Brazil. It is commonly dissed by highbrow coffee types, who prefer its smoother-tasting cousin, Arabica.
“Robusta has an image problem,” said Andrew Hetzel, of Café Makers, a coffee consultancy for roasters, growers and traders. Before tasting coffee from beans made by a high-quality Indian producer of robusta, he says, all he knew was “that robusta was bad.”
Also, he said Friday at a panel at the Specialty Coffee Association of America convention in Seattle, he’d “seen T-shirts with ‘Your mother drinks robusta.’ ”
Hetzel, however, became a convert — even if initially a lonely one. “There were a few years where we held cuppings” of exquisite robusta beans, “and nobody came,” he said.
Nevertheless, high-quality varieties of the species are gaining ground in coffee-mad places like Australia, Japan and South Korea.
Craig Dickson, of Australian roaster Veneziano Coffee Roasters, says that since most coffee in his country is consumed with milk, the stronger notes of robusta come through better than those of Arabica. Forty percent of Veneziano’s business is from an espresso blend that contains high-quality Indian robusta produced by Nishant Gurjer, of Sethuraman Estates. It brings out “positive chocolaty notes,” he said.
In fact, Gurjer’s coffee was the first to receive a fine robusta certification in 2012 from the Coffee Quality Institute, in Long Beach, Calif.
Henry Ngabirano, an Uganda Coffee Development Authority official who has sought to spread the gospel of high-quality robusta for three decades, said at the panel that its moment in the sun is finally coming.
“Better late than never.”
This movement comes amid growing concerns of future availability for top-notch Arabica, as the bean suffers from climate change and disease even as consumption explodes in new markets such as China and India.
But some challenges remain, especially in Arabica-loving America, where specialty coffee drinkers are used to smooth coffees from Latin America.
An image overhaul is in order for a species that’s been long pooh-poohed by specialty coffee gurus, Hetzel said.
“Perhaps a new name for robusta,” he said.
— Ángel González: firstname.lastname@example.org