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First RespondXR: Digital vulnerability of immersive training for first responders

Niamh F Healy16 February 2022

For the past few months, I have had the pleasure of working as a research assistant on the First Respond XR project. The pilot study, led by Dr Leonie Tanczer, Lecturer in International Security and Emerging Technologies at UCL STEaPP, has been funded by the SPRITE Hub and explores the digital vulnerabilities associated with using Extended Reality (XR) to train police officers in the UK.

XR is an umbrella term used in reference to different types of virtual reality technology: immersive, three-dimensional, computer-generated environments. Popular examples of XR include Oculus Rift, a fully-immersive VR gaming headset, or Pokémon Go, which superimposes Pokémon onto the user’s environment via their smartphone cameras, an example of augmented reality (AR).

As the application areas of this technology are manifold, our four-month-long pilot study (December 2021 – March 2022) has the ambition to map the social, ethical, technical, and legal risks associated with the use of XR technology in the police training context. Our team (Dr Leonie Tanczer, Professor David McIlhatton, Professor Jill Marshall, Dr Mark McGill, Dr Lena Podoletz, Marina Heilbrunn and Niamh Healy) is set together with human-computer interaction (HCI) researchers, legal experts, security academics, and criminology and policing specialists. The multidisciplinary nature of the team, encompassing social, legal and technical expertise, benefits the examination of this timely issue and aids a holistic analysis of XR systems in the policing context. To date, we have been conducting a literature review to identify existing use cases of XR for police training as well as applications in other first responders domains (i.e., health, military, fire service). Our legal team has also begun mapping the complex legal context surrounding police use of XR for training purposes.

In this blog, I share some of our social team’s initial findings, set out our next research steps, and explain how interested parties could get involved in our study.

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