High-tech signboards can give real-time crime alerts

High-tech signboards can give real-time crime alerts
Using an Android phone with a customised app. The user can input details like the date, time and type of incident.

SINGAPORE - Crime alert signboards are going high-tech if a prototype designed by a team of Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) students takes off.

Their version of the signboard, based on the one used by the police to alert the public to crimes in their neighbourhood, can be updated remotely using a secure smartphone application.

The project, unveiled yesterday, comprised off-the-shelf parts like an LCD display, a cellular module, a microcomputer and a power supply with a custom-made case to let it receive messages from the app and update the board in real time.

This means police officers no longer need to visit every location to modify each sign manually, said Dr Li Yan, 35, a lecturer with NP's electronic and computer engineering division.

NP is now refining its version with feedback from the police, including suggestions to make the prototype weather and tamper-proof.

"They (police) want audio output and a bigger display, as well multiple displays (on one board)," said Dr Li, adding that extending battery life was in the works. "We are also exploring energy harvesting technology, such as solar."

The idea, mooted as a final-year student project, won two prizes at the Security Awareness For Everyone (Safe) Program last November. The annual competition organised by the Home Team is aimed at finding ideas to tackle security and safety challenges.

Dr Li said that besides the police, companies from the private sector have also expressed interest in the prototype after it was showcased at the polytechnic's open-house in January.

The students behind the original concept have since graduated, but NP staff have taken over the reins and are figuring out how to implement the improvements.

These could include alarms and accelerometers to trigger an alert should the signboards be tampered with, and miniaturisation to make each set more portable, said Dr Li.

This article was published on June 11 in The Straits Times.

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