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GOOGLE JIGSAW | LEARNING VR technology to help advance public safety

Google Jigsaw_TrainerVR


- Adapted from this article by Jigsaw

We’re enormously proud to have worked with Google Jigsaw to design and produce groundbreaking virtual reality simulations that allow law enforcement instructors to evaluate officer performance in communication and de-escalation skills.

Recent advances in virtual reality (VR) have demonstrated the potential for technology to create scalable opportunities for law enforcement and other public safety professionals, particularly in the realm of education. In training contexts, VR can create a uniquely immersive experience, employing heightened tensions to build critical skills in an environment that mimics the same physiological responses as those generated in real-world interactions.

Through collaboration with a diverse group of civil society organisations, academics, researchers, and law enforcement in the U.S., we partnered with Google Jigsaw to research whether VR could advance de-escalation training by enhancing communication and critical thinking skills.

The resulting work is Trainer — a VR platform that combines recent advances in voice recognition, natural language processing, and VR to provide law enforcement instructors and criminal justice scholars, with an immersive, realistic environment to train and evaluate officer performance.

How Trainer works

Once users put on the VR headset, they’re immersed in a virtual world and experience interactive scenarios with responsive virtual characters of different races, ages and genders. To hone officers‘ problem-solving skills, scenarios are modelled on everyday police interactions, such as domestic disputes or motor vehicle stops. The characters respond to questions and commands in real-time. Their answers change according to the user’s language and behaviour, including body positioning and interaction with objects in the virtual environment. Instructors can observe and evaluate officer performance in scenarios with different contexts and stressors.

The fluid exchanges between users and virtual characters result from integrating with Dialogflow — a natural language understanding platform that supports building speech interfaces into apps and interactive voice-response systems. Dialogflow works as a classifier to take user speech as an input and categorise it based on likely user intent. It can be expanded to accommodate new language over time, including regionalisms and novel responses, to increase the naturalness and authenticity of the interactions. 

An informed approach

From the inception of this project, Trainer has relied on the research of and collaboration with a diverse group of civil society organisations, academics, researchers, civil rights activists, and law enforcement in the U.S.

Leaders within these organisations have expressed their enthusiasm for Trainer’s potential and the approach to advancing VR training.

Ebonie Riley, National Action Network’s Washington, DC Bureau Chief, said that she is

“proud to have been included in a broad, diverse coalition of advocates, scholars, policy experts, and law enforcement who added input to Jigsaw’s ground-breaking technologies. Jigsaw’s ability to merge technological advancements, cultural dimensions and implications for civil rights and social justice in a world of growing inequality is the definition of bringing all voices to the table.”

James Shea, Jersey City’s Director of Public Safety, said,

“The immersive training takes de-escalation tactics to a new level, providing various situations, environments, and emotions, just as our police officers experience every day in every community. Nothing studied in a textbook or shown on a screen can compare to the promise of Jigsaw’s virtual reality training.”

Where we go from here

Understanding Trainer’s efficacy is an important next step in the journey to leveraging it for future use as an instructional tool. Beyond training, the technology offers a controlled environment for research. The platform can provide researchers with the opportunity to study officer behaviour and explore how to reduce violence between police and communities. Trainer can be modified and expanded to support study goals by adding scenarios, changing characters’ appearance or behaviour, and modifying environmental stressors to analyse a wider variety of interactions further. 

Today Google Jigsaw is transferring Trainer’s technology to a new consortium of academic institutions to drive research on the platform. These institutions include the University of Cincinnati, Morehouse College, University of Maryland, and Georgetown University. Each of these programs presents a unique set of research questions on the issue of equitable public safety and seeks to leverage Trainer in their ongoing research.

With the help of these partners, the hope is that Trainer will help police officers improve critical skills and better inform academics, researchers, and practitioners on successful deployment of VR training, and ultimately drive progress towards fairer policing in communities most impacted by police violence.

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