Street Smarts VR, founded by Oliver Noteware '18 and with help from Scott Liftman '18, produces original virtual reality training content for police departments to improve officer judgment and reduce avoidable police-citizen violence. The immersive nature of virtual reality conditions officers to improve high-pressure decision-making in stressful environments, while the wide variety of content allows officers to develop pattern recognition and intuition. "When you work in a police department with officers who put their life on the line to serve their communities, and you see how they react to our product, it’s a moving experience. They tell you this is the future of training and you realize that you're on to something," says Liftman.
Street Smarts VR’s innovative solution addresses several pain points in officer training. "Current offerings lack the immersive aspect of VR, and thus fail to simulate the real-world stress of policing," says Noteware. "Furthermore, training occurs infrequently, with the average officer receiving fewer than two scenario training sessions per year due to the constraints of an often-centralized facility at an offsite location." Finally, the current scenario training offerings are unrealistic — often replicating low-probability events such as mass shootings and terrorist attacks — and fail to prepare officers for the types of everyday situations that are most likely to escalate into violence.
Street Smarts VR honed their idea and completed their pilot phase this past spring with support from the Greenhouse Master Class. "It’s been humbling to work with such an earnest and visionary team who have built VR training systems that will help bridge the gap between our police and the communities they serve across so many American cities in crisis," says Greenhouse Professor Dave Lerner. In addition to participating in Greenhouse, Street Smarts VR received an investment from the Lang Fund Board, placed in the top six in the world at the Global Social Ventures Competition, and received an investment from First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund, among several other awards.
They plan to continue leveraging the resources of Columbia and will work out of the Columbia Startup Lab in the next year. "The vision that we see is a United States, even a world, where every police officer trains in virtual reality. The same way that every pilot uses a flight simulator — and you wouldn’t get on a plane with a pilot who hadn’t used one — we think policing is going to go the same way," says Noteware. "We think anyone who makes life-or-death decisions, or any difficult decisions under stress could benefit from this type of training. We intend to serve the police community initially, but we think there are wide applications for this. We'd love to be the company that eventually gets to that stage."