Reality Mobile's Spy Phone Tech

Mon, 03/15/2010

Christopher Helman

The port of Los Angeles has 27 terminals spread along 43 miles of coastline being watched by 400 security cameras. As part of a $4.2 million security upgrade to be completed in April, port police will be able to pull live video from any of those cameras onto the screens of their smart phones or car-mounted computers, the better to eyeball miscreants. If an officer has his eye on someone lurking in an area not covered by the port's stationary cameras, he can push the scene live from the video camera on his smart phone to the screens of other officers approaching the scene.

Making this all possible is nifty software created by Reality Mobile, a Herndon, Va. firm that got $250,000 to hook 140 L.A. port officers into a network. "It's a real force multiplier," says Julia Kirwan, the port's police technology manager.

In 2009 Reality Mobile pulled in less than $5 million of revenue, 80% from government customers. During President Obama's inauguration and a visit to the U.S. by Pope Benedict last year, Washington, D.C. police used Reality Mobile's software to distribute video among officers. The military is testing it for use in unmanned drones. Though unconfirmed, it's likely that soldiers in Afghanistan use the software to push live video of captured jihadi suspects to the computer screens of intelligence agents stateside and are quickly sent instructions to hold a guy for interrogation or let him go.

The business case for this technology: When something goes wrong, the person who knows best how to fix it is probably thousands of miles away. New York utility ConEd has deployed software with crews that respond to downed power lines. Oil companies could use it to let a semiretired engineer, lounging poolside with his laptop, help a roughneck fix a broken valve on a platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

"If it's on your screen, then people in your network can see it," says Patrick McVeigh, chairman of Reality Mobile and former chief executive at Palmsource. "This is telepresence at the edge."

Reality Mobile is far from a threat to the likes of Cisco Systems (CSCO), which bought videoconferencing hardware maker Tandberg for $3.4 billion last year and sells pricey TelePresence videoconference setups. But cofounder and chief scientist David Rensin is giddy about his software's great potential: "There's no need to schedule a WebEx conference ahead of time; we can push live video to dozens of people. And because we're software-based, we don't get obsolete." (It works on Windows-powered PCs and phones and RIM's BlackBerry; versions for Google's (GOOG) Android and Nokia's (NOK) Symbian platforms are in the works; Apple (AAPL) hasn't yet cleared it for the iPhone.)