Austin Handle, West Georgia ’17, is a police officer and tech hobbyist with a dream to get his self-made application, Apollo AI (or Apollo), into the hands of first responders. After nearly two years developing the app, Apollo is now a working prototype of a hands-free web application and virtual assistant. It can be accessed on any device and communicate information to people over a headset through a digital voice. Handle said it sounds remarkably human thanks to neural language processing. Handle compares Apollo to Jarvis, the AI assistant from the Iron Man films, for first responders. It’s a virtual assistant that talks, texts, and emails important information to public safety officials all on voice command.
“We do have a dashboard built into so you can see this information as it’s coming in, but you get it all in your headset and it sounds like a normal person talking to you,” he said. “It’s pretty much everything that I could imagine we could do without eliminating a dispatch center altogether. Apollo is pretty much designed out of that nature and that necessity.”
In order to find grant funding to further develop his application, he researched opportunities and came across the Tech to Protect Challenge sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Division.
“I stumbled across Tech to Protect the day it launched, just by chance. And I saw that Apollo actually fit into three of the contests,” said Handle. “I was excited. These are actual problems that we need to solve. And it’s hard because the private market and commercialization people have no idea.”
After entering and participating in the September 2019 competition in Washington, DC, Handle won Top Overall #2 ($7,500) as well as Best in Class Contest 6 (Voice to Commands to Virtual Assistants: Hands Free Device Control ($1,000). As for the reward, he said half of it immediately went right back into developing his application.
In November, Handle participated in another three-day regional Tech to Protect Challenge hackathon in Miami where he once again won Top Overall #2, Best in Class Contest 6. The challenge provided experience working with first responders in team-building exercises to learn how technology can help police officers, firefighters, and EMS better serve the public.