Having "eyes on" is an important theme we hear more and more when discussing situational awareness during any given mission, be that for a hidden subject in a house during a break in, or seeking "squirters" in a large poppy field. Knowing what's going on around you as a handler is critical, both for your welfare and for the welfare of your police K9 or military working dog.
When you're thinking about kitting up your MPC, you think of a K9 tactical vest, an agitation collar, a dog "bulletproof" vest, and a tactical K9 leash of some sort. The reality is, while all those things are good and quite necessary, what you really need to know is what's going on in front of your K9 when given the command to Seek or Find. Having a camera system on the dog is critical for real time information so as to keep you informed and provide a heads up to critical situations.
There are several types of camera systems to consider. There are civilian cameras
like GoPro and the DJI Osmo cam that are less expensive alternatives to some of their military or law enforcement equivalents and provide high quality, rugged cases. The drawback on many of these types of cameras is the lack of a strong signal once the K9 enters a building or subterranean location where bluetooth range is compromised. If reconnaissance is all you're after with the ability to view your video at a later time in a safe environment, then these cameras could certainly do the trick. Most of the Recon K9 vests have a tactical toggle built into the vest to accept these types of mounts. Further they can be applied to the back of the dog using the Recon K9 Camera Mounting Plate.
Within law enforcement and military communities, having real-time, live feeds coming from your camera system is critical. In order to accomplish this, there are several factors that need to be considered. What is the lag time of the video feed (every second counts)? Does it have an infrared illuminator? What is the transmission range from the camera to your receiver? Note that concrete walls, steel doors, etc will play a major factor in the clarity and strength of your signal. This would be the #1 factor to consider when evaluating the right camera for you or your team.
There are several players in this space that focus primarily on camera technology for K9s. Tactical Electronics has the K9-XR camera. It features combines a low-
light color camera with high-intensity visible & IR LEDs, providing vision in extreme low-light environments. The K9-XR Camera also includes a white-hot thermal camera for
detecting hidden heat signatures. Handlers can remotely toggle between the color and thermal cameras by pressing the view button on the K9-XR Monitor. One unique factor of the TE K9-XR camera is that it allows for two-way audio allowing handlers to give commands and listen to a canine and/or suspect, utilizing the “Push to Talk” feature.
Perhaps one of the most well known players in this arena is TSE or Tactical Support Equipment. They have two of the most powerful systems available on the market today. The original K9 camera incorporates a Color Day/Night Camera that visually outperforms many other K9 Cameras in low light situations. The infrared illuminator is controlled by the camera, so it's able turn the illuminator on and off as needed and save battery life. The Receiver/Monitor has been upgraded to a
larger 3.5” LCD. The high power transmitter outputs at 3.5 Watts. The practical system transmission range is beyond 300 yards from a building and then through three reinforced concrete walls with steel hatch doors, giving one of the furthest point-to-point transmission range of any K9 camera system on the market.
Most recently, TSE introduced the big brother to their original offering, calling it the Ghost K9 Camera (MANET K9 Camera). The camera operates on the Persistent Systems Wave Relay® Mobile Ad Hoc Networking (MANET) System. Users can select between 10-Watt L-Band and S-Band Radio Modules. C-Band Radio Modules are also available on request.
The Thermal Camera operates at a full frame rate, which produces no lag in video. With selectable White Light and Infrared Strobe Light. The Ghost K9 camera is GPS enabled as well.
The camera is viewed and controlled by a K9 Plug-In for the Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK), which is run on Android Device. User can view and record video and view K9 Camera and K9 Handler location on a map with ATAK.
Here is a video of the Ghost K9 Camera in action using the thermal feature.
There are many factors to consider when evaluating your options, those being budgets, the need for a live feed vs. playback options, the need for IR or Thermal. If the goal is simply for straight reconnaissance and the dog will remain in your general pervue, then one of the action cams might be the perfect solution. They're affordable, easy to use and interface well with most phones and computers. As the need for real time feeds, limited lag, and deep penetration become more vital to the success of your operation, then you should consider one of the major players. While we only focused on a few here, there are several additional options that range anywhere from $5,000 to $60,000 per K9 camera. The options are great, the features are countless. Do your homework and find the system that's best for you and your team. Safe hunting!