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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Nashua’s Zco Corporation developing hundreds of high-tech mobile apps, including PublicEye to keep police and fire on ‘cutting edge’

NASHUA – Overlooking the Nashua River in their Millyard Technology Park office, complete with an in-house badminton court, employees of Zco Corp. are working to develop some of the most outrageous and innovative device apps available on the market.

One of those more innovative apps was designed to help police in Lowell, Mass., and is being used by police and firefighters locally to quickly and conveniently sort through information at emergency scenes using smartphones. ...

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NASHUA – Overlooking the Nashua River in their Millyard Technology Park office, complete with an in-house badminton court, employees of Zco Corp. are working to develop some of the most outrageous and innovative device apps available on the market.

One of those more innovative apps was designed to help police in Lowell, Mass., and is being used by police and firefighters locally to quickly and conveniently sort through information at emergency scenes using smartphones.

Gary Mueller, Zco’s vice president of business development says the app, dubbed PublicEye, is at the forefront of modernizing police, fire and emergency response services in the public sector. The company was originally approached by Apple with the idea of developing some sort of app to assist the Lowell, Mass., police department. Zco came up with PolicePad about three years ago and currently have the Amherst and Bedford fire departments beta-testing their FireTab app for fire service as well.

Mueller said with a tablet or smartphone, officials responding to emergencies or crime scenes have a wealth of information at their fingertips. Officials can use their PublicEye apps to track calls to dispatch centers, read narrations from callers reporting emergencies, arrive on scene and use available maps to locate fire hydrants and find back entrances to buildings. They can even tap into surveillance camera systems to watch live feeds. Mueller said police also can use their devices for follow-up investigative work and track social media for any hot leads on a crime.

Amherst Fire Chief Mark Boynton said his department commanders would have to pore through three-ring binders stored in their fire trucks to view the layout of a building when responding to a structure fire. That’s not necessary any longer, as the department works with Zco, along with the Bedford Fire Department, as PublicEye beta-testers.

“You would pull this book out and flip through 150 pages of stuff for what you’re trying to look for,” Boynton said. “It’s not very efficient and most of the time (the binders didn’t) get used because it’s too cumbersome.”

Boynton said the application already has proven to be useful for his department. The Amherst and Bedford departments provide feedback to the Nashua corporation through a contractual agreement in turn for the service, which Mueller said can cost thousands of dollars to install and implement.

“We had a fire a month ago…,” Boynton said. “I got into my vehicle and was able to see the caller information (on my iPad), where the fire was … I touched the hydrant (icon) and was able to see it was 500 feet away …This is a huge step in the right direction to have an iPad that’s much quick quicker and much easier to use.”

Bedford Fire Deputy Chief Mark Klose, who has been with the agency for 25 years, said fresh technology is necessary to ensure fire services don’t fall “into the dark ages.”

“Especially the new generational firefighters coming through the doors, they’re so computer savvy because they’re learning that at such a young age,” he said.

Mueller said the company will announce a few more partnerships with public sector agencies in the coming weeks, including sheriffs’ departments in New Hampshire.

“They’re really, really excited,” he said. “They expect this to be coming from Silicon Valley but it’s right in their backyards, in Nashua.”

Augmented reality
and beyond

Dave Asplund, senior account manager for the company, said Zco has hundreds of apps already developed and in the making, ranging from the obscure to the practical.

Inside a conference room at Zco headquarters, he used an iPad to make a two-dimensional paper landscape come to life. When a tablet’s camera views an object with the application, a person can look through the screen, see a 3D image and put their finger to the paper in the real world to interact with the pop-up layout.

“Basically, you can take any two dimensional piece of paper, like a business card or anything and you can plant a digital marker on it,” he said, to use the technology.

With Zco’s augmented reality, or “AR,” apps, many still in the prototype phase, a child could learn a new language, tapping a piece of paper with their finger to hear the app tell them the object’s name in Spanish. A medical student could view a skeleton through their device to perform an augmented reality operation, Asplund said.

“Rather then spending thousands of dollars on cadavers and skeletons, you could just pull out your iPad and focus on these images,” he said.

He describes Zco as being on the “cutting edge” because of the vision of Zco’s CEO. However, Asplund and several representatives for the company refused to identify that person, stating he likes his privacy. A quick Google search revealed the CEO and founder of the organization to be John Olapurath, which CFO Linda Reilly confirmed.

Zco Corp., which moved from Hudson to Nashua this winter, is a privately owned company that prides itself on being one of the largest mobile app development companies in the world. Founded in 1989, Zco started out designing in custom software. Today, the company designs 3D animation, augmented reality features and related apps for other companies, including New Hampshire Public Radio and the television show Relentless Pursuit.

Asplund joked their Olapurath is much like the fictional “Oz”character, behind the curtain. No further information was provided by the company, except that he lives in Hawaii and wished to base his company in New Hampshire because he enjoys nature.

Zco Corp. operates their headquarters with approximately 20 to 25 employees out of Nashua, where a personal trainer visits their staff twice a week. They also have a corporate retreat in Maui, Hawaii.

Asplund said the company’s pitch for outside parties is always, “If you can dream it, we can do it.”

Samantha Allen can be reached at 594-6426 or sallen@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Allen on Twitter (@Telegraph_SamA).