Police officers could soon be wearing body-mounted cameras programmed to spot criminals and missing people in real-time, using artificial intelligence.

The cameras, built by Motorola and similar to those already used by some US police forces to record an officer's point of view, could also help find missing objects like a stolen car, thanks to machine learning.

A prototype of the AI camera is already being developed by Motorola and Neurala, a deep learning startup based in Boston, Massachusetts that recently added its software to drone cameras to help track poachers in Africa.

The smart camera will learn while it is used and "automatically search for persons or objects of interest, significantly reducing the time and effort required to find a missing child or suspicious object in environments that are often crowded or chaotic," Motorola and Neurala said in a joint statement.

"We see powerful potential for artificial intelligence to improve safety and efficiency for our customers, which in turn helps create safer communities," said Paul Steinberg, chief technology officer of Motorola Solutions. "But applying AI in a public safety setting presents unique challenges. Neurala's 'edge learning' capabilities will help us explore solutions for a variety of public safety workflows such as finding a missing child or investigating an object of interest, such as a bicycle."

Using a system called 'at the edge' learning, the high-tech camera learns the appearance of the person or object being searched for, without lengthy training. This process, also known as incremental learning, is claimed to reduce the risk of "catastrophic forgetting", which occurs when a neural network forgets its previous training. This technique also enhances accuracy and reduces latency so the camera can be used to scan for a person in a crowd in real time.

Steinberg continues: "In the case of a missing child, imagine if the parent showed the child's photo to a nearby police officer on patrol. The officer's body-worn camera sees the photo, the AI engine 'learns' what the child looks like and deploys an engine to the body-worn cameras of nearby officers, quickly creating a team searching for the child."