(April 6): Taser International Inc. has become by far the leading US supplier of police body cameras, which departments have rushed to adopt in the years since the shootings in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere led to public demands for greater accountability. Interest in the cameras, and the management of their footage, has pushed the world’s best-known maker of stun guns toward cloud computing and digital devices, sold under the Axon brand. Now that business is becoming the face of the US$1.2 billion company.

The whole place will be called Axon, and as of April 6 the TASR ticker on the Nasdaq exchange is AAXN. “The Taser brand is a product brand,” says Chief Executive Officer Rick Smith. “People don’t think of cloud software or sensor devices and the many things we now do.” He’s trying to solidify Axon’s position and deepen ties to local departments with a splashy offer: a year of free cameras for any US police agency.

Body cameras, and software to manage the footage, marked Taser’s first successful initiative to expand beyond the occasionally dangerous stun guns after years of failure. In 2011 almost all its revenue came from Tasers, but last year Axon made up a quarter of sales. Axon says it’s won contracts with 36 of the 41 major city departments that have bought body cameras.

To guide its evolution, Taser brought tech leaders onto its board, including a former Facebook chief technology officer. In 2013 it bought a Seattle startup that became its research hub. The Seattle office now houses 115 employees, and Axon has signed a lease to triple its space there. This year it bought two artificial intelligence teams, startup Dextro and a computer vision team from Fossil Group Inc.

For now, the AI group is focused on automating the labor-intensive redaction of body cam videos for public release. But Smith says the company’s long-term goal is to automatically extract the video information needed to fill out police reports. This could free officers from paperwork—and make Axon a required tool for any department, replacing its traditional record management system. “We are licking our chops at this idea,” Smith says.

Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, says police technology should balance automation with human judgment. “We know that people get things wrong, but so do computers,” she says.

Smith’s first step is to put cameras on more cops. About two-thirds of officers support using body cams, according to a January study by Pew Research Center, but Smith estimates that only about 20% have them. Hence the one-year free trial, software included: It’s partly a public-relations stunt, partly an attempt to end-run often baroque police procurement processes.

The idea for the free trial grew out of a loss. Last fall the New York City Police Department, the nation’s largest, chose Taser’s top challenger, Seattle’s Vievu LLC, to supply its first 5,000 cameras. Losing the contract sent Taser’s stock down 18%. (It hasn’t rebounded.) Taser howled at the decision, saying the NYPD’s field trials were too small, and offered the department 1,000 cameras and licenses as a “gift.”

Safariland LLC, which owns Vievu, called the Taser offer a “desperate attempt to circumvent the process designed to ensure fair treatment of all vendors.” It added, “If the NYPD had wanted vendors to supply 1,000 free cameras or any other provisions, the NYPD would have spelled out that requirement” in the request for proposals. The NYPD declined the deal.

Smith says Axon expects critics to call the latest offer anticompetitive, too. “Oh, sure, there will be some legal challenges,” he says. “Luckily we have plenty of lawyers from our Taser side of the business.”