Bayes Centre


Viapontica AI and Cisco UK have teamed up to create SenseDistress. SenseDistress involves making the police cell into a connected environment to detect health risk in custody in a non-invasive way. This technology helps to monitor detained individuals to help keep them safe while they are in custody.

The Challenge

When a person is detained, ensuring their safety and wellbeing becomes a critical responsibility for the police. But police custody supervisors are presented with many challenges to handle complex healthcare needs while respecting privacy and – of course – human rights. 

It can be extremely challenging to protect people’s wellbeing in custody as healthcare needs might not be immediately obvious, especially if detainees aren’t cooperative. 

Those being held might be impacted by substance intoxication, through drug or alcohol use. Even in seemingly low-risk situations, people’s health can deteriorate rapidly – and police custody centres don’t always have immediate physical access to professional healthcare due to their location or set up.

That means responding to problems, or even identifying potential needs early on, can make a huge difference. So how can the police strike this tricky balance to protect the people in their care and respect their rights? Viapontica AI, an R&D startup headquartered at the Bayes Center, recently completed a unique study together with Cisco and Police Scotland with support from NHS Lothian to answer that exact question.

The Solution

SenseDistress illustration of cartoon man with heat detection

The project had two simple objectives - first, reduce number of abstraction hours of officers where officers are tasked with duties which do not directly correspond to their main responsibilities; and second, reduce the risk for health & wellbeing issues of people in custody.

The project started off by exploring how pairing sensors with artificial intelligence can support the welfare of people in police custody – and the officers caring for them. While the project started in one direction, Viapontica AI's team through workshops and focus groups discovered an entirely new opportunity. They discovered a second point of intervention through an objective baseline at the time of arrival to inform further care, which to their knowledge had never been explored before and with this, SenseDistress, was born.

SenseDistress involves making the police cell into a connected environment to detect health risk in custody in a non-invasive way. From the moment they arrive, SenseDistress offers the potential to help police custody staff to keep detainees safe – without invading their privacy.

The truly great thing about this early warning system is that while the technology is cutting edge, SenseDistress can potentially be deployed in any custody centre by integrating existing sensors and off-the-shelf hardware. That means the system can be affordable and discreet, whether it is needed in a hundred-year old custody centre or a new state-of-the-art facility.


“It's been a unique privilege and a challenge as a small organisation like ours to lead an innovation project which involves two organisations which affect the lives of everyone in Scotland, in a project whose outcomes we think bear significance for a number of private sector industries such as transportation.

The project came about organically and we are very glad to have partnered with Cisco who brought a dedicated team that supported us throughout with input and direction, and with whom we have been working on developing next generation computer vision. We were also extremely lucky that Police Scotland, as a challenge owner, approached the challenge with an open mind.

The work we’ve done so far is a feasibility study to validate the concept, but soon we hope to help detect potential health crises in police custody before they emerge. This is another great example of how technology can protect the vulnerable across our society. And that’s something really worth being optimistic about.

Vesko CholakovViapontica AI


“It was great to see how the teams from Viapontica AI (principal investigator and project lead), The University of Edinburgh, Police Scotland and Cisco came together and collaborated to work through the various scenarios and use case to come to a conclusion and final solution having tested such a variety of off the shelf technologies and solutions - true team work and very encouraging going forward into a post-COVID-19 world and where we will collaborate effectively to work through the new challenges ahead.”

Tom KneenHead of Strategic Academic Partnerships, CTO Office, Cisco UKI


Viapontica AI - Looking forward

With the success of the SenseDistress project, Viapontica AI are looking ahead and are positive about how similar technologies can be used in a variety of sectors such as construction, public transport and public infrastructure to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its workers.

Based at the Bayes Centre, the company is closely integrated with the ecosystem at the University of Edinburgh where they draw on a pool of industry and academia-leading experts. The core Viapontica team has combined decades of commercial experience in government and the private sector in the U.S. and Europe, and brings cross-functional expertise in machine learning, software engineering, business strategy, policy, economics, service and user experience design.

Viapontica AI have team members based throughout Europe and fortunately are accustomed to working remotely so whilst they can’t physically be based in Bayes at the moment due to covid-19 this has not slowed their progress and they continue to collaborate and work together on current and emerging projects.

About Viapontica AI

Viapontica AI is a boutique AI engineering company. They define, engineer and deploy ground-breaking products and services; working across disciplines to deliver human-centred design with top-notch engineering. From the future of transport, to big trends in product design, health and public infrastructure, Viapontica AI bring scientists, engineers, machine learning experts and more to define and build solutions for widespread public benefit.


Cisco is a global technology company and world leader in the world of network connectivity, collaboration, cloud connectivity and security. We are partners with The University of Edinburgh and the Bayes Centre and working on a number research and applied research projects.


Find out more about Viapontica AI