Why I Started Evolv: A Q+A with Co-Founder and CEO, Mike Ellenbogen

Mike Ellenbogen

By Melissa Cohen, Vice President of Marketing –

I recently sat down with Mike Ellenbogen, our CEO and co-founder. We discussed his career path, what’s to come in the security industry in 2019 and Mike’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. See what Mike had to say.

Melissa Cohen: Mike, you have a lot of experience launching new companies and building something from the ground up based on a new idea. You did this with both Evolv and your previous company. Can you tell us about an accomplishment that shaped your career?

Mike Ellenbogen: Absolutely. I love building things and always have. I had a eureka moment that triggered the inception of my first company, Reveal Imaging. After new legislative requirements for airport security screening were put in place following September 11, I realized it made sense to employ smaller, less expensive systems and connect them together via a network of PCs. We rethought the way checked baggage was screened in the U.S., considering the total cost of the systems as opposed to just the cost of the technology. Ultimately, Reveal Imaging was acquired by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in August 2010. I’m immensely proud of the work that team did and grateful for the experience – it’s really helped shape who I am today and is what motivated me to keep going and start Evolv.

MC: Based on your extensive experience in the security business, what do you think makes a good CEO in the industry?

ME: There needs to be an inclination to push beyond the conservative approach that is so common in the security industry. There are plenty of businesses out there with the “same old” security technology that’s been around for decades. I like to push the envelop and ensure that my company is offering something that solves a problem while also surprising and delighting. I think it’s important that a security industry CEO sees the world that can be rather than replicating what’s already out there or being happy with the status quo.

MC: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building either of these businesses and how did you overcome it?

ME: The core technology at both companies was/is really complicated – millimeter wave imaging is a challenging field, so is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Of course, you have to have technology that works in order to have repeatable and reliable customers that you can pursue. Leading an emerging technology company and inventing fundamentally new technology, there’s inherently a lot of pieces you have to glue together. It’s daunting and the success of the company is reliant on a deep understanding of the physics of the real world and how to appropriately push the boundaries of electronics and processing.

With any new technology or applications, there is also a steep learning curve among your teams. An engineer may be familiar with the technology, but not with the application. On that note, another challenge is finding the kind of people that can help move the physical security technology industry forward. We look for people with credibility, who have energy and creativity, and can also help move the needle.

MC: What are some of the biggest trends and themes you’ll be watching for in the security industry in 2019?

ME: We’ll definitely see further integration of AI and facial recognition into more security technologies and applications. Disparate AI capabilities will need to be packaged in a way that is more useful for customers in 2019. We’ll also see an increase in compute power at the edge, for example, more compute power within security cameras rather than via a central/integrated service. And, I know people have been saying this outside of the security industry for years, but we’re going to see expanded use of the cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) within security technologies. While this has already started, some major shifts in this space are coming.

MC: Let’s do some rapid-fire, fun questions. How would you describe your leadership style?

ME: I like to think I present a vision of what could be to get people behind that vision – you need people to believe in the vision to engage them in getting there. Considering I’m focused on solving problems in a new way, I also recognize that it’s important for me to surround myself with people who are optimistic but real.

MC: What is your top productivity hack?

ME: I live my life multi-threaded, which I think is just another way of saying that I’m always trying to be efficient. I do a lot of different things in parallel. For example, I turn the coffee pot on before I get ready for work so that it’s ready when I leave. I take pride in maximizing my time like this.

MC: What piece of advice would you give your younger self?

ME: I always wanted to run a company and invent something – this desire was within me from a very young age. I would tell myself you need time to see the opportunities in the market, so find an industry you really love, make it your own, and word incredibly hard at it.

MC: What motivates you?

ME: Every day I’m motivated by the vision that the technology we’re working on is important and helping to save lives. As I mentioned before, I also love building new things and, in doing so, helping to bring success to the people around me.

MC: What best practices can you share for future leaders who are looking to start a business?

ME: It’s all about the people. Whatever your path, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the trenches with them, so you better like them. And of course, expect the unexpected!

AI’s Role in the New-World Security Paradigm

Computer Generated Face

By Michael Ellenbogen, CEO, Evolv Technology –

It’s no secret that artificial intelligence (AI) is exerting its influence on society in profound ways. AI can be found pretty much everywhere – in applications ranging from self-driving cars to online assistants to game-playing computers to the prediction of judicial decisions. It’s solving problems, moving markets and changing lives.

AI is also weaving its way into the realm of physical security. While its uses are still evolving, AI is positioned to play a key role in the new-world security paradigm, where terrorist attacks and mass shootings have broadened the threat landscape and made it more unpredictable. Security responses are shifting from reactive to proactive, and vendors are integrating AI technologies into some of today’s security solutions. Here are three AI applications that can help organizations take a proactive security approach to prepare for future threats.

Determining what’s “normal”

Before you can declare that a situation is abnormal and worth attention, you need to be able to define “normal.” Using machine learning, an advanced form of AI, computers can be taught how to identify an object once certain characteristics are specified. Once the computer learns what a normal environment is, it can monitor for anomalies and alert security personnel when it identifies something out of the ordinary.

More specifically, computers can be taught what is allowed in a certain area at a certain time. For example, a system can be taught that figures moving around outside a public building are normal during the day but abnormal at night. When an environment changes from normal to abnormal, an alert can be automatically triggered.

Using AI, computers can do more of the work of monitoring environments, giving guards and operations personnel more bandwidth to focus on higher priority tasks, such as quickly responding to an actual threat. Automating monitoring of these environments also reduces human error.

Understanding when a threat is really a threat

So, now that AI is helping to define what’s “normal,” it can go to work determining what constitutes a “threat.” Machine learning can be taught to identify an object as something specific based on certain characteristics. This is referred to as “object recognition.” It can be used to identify outliers to the norm – which, in a security context, can be defined as threats.

For instance, in the situation above, security personnel want to be alerted at night if a specific type of figure enters the scene. People obviously qualify as potential threats. Perhaps some large animals or vehicles would be worthy of an alert. Small animals? Birds? Windblown trash? These would be picked up by some sensing systems, but they’re not actual threats. If a computer can be taught to recognize certain objects by their size, shape or specific actions, it can flag threats and filter out benign activity.

With the right sensors, when surveying a large crowd of people, guards can determine if a visitor’s bag might contain a threat object and then track that visitor or object. Should that person appear back on the screen without the bag, the computer can search the environment for the item, quickly sending security guards to that specific area and clearing the crowd.

In a security checkpoint scenario, this application drastically reduces the need for hand wanding or physical full-body pat downs as the technology itself can alert guards if someone is carrying an item of interest. Guards can then focus on a subset of people as opposed to screening thousands of visitors or travelers with the same level of rigor – which would improves the visitor experience for all involved.

Tracking objects in video feeds

Tracking a figure based on characteristics is advanced; re-identifying the figure without using facial recognition takes security to a whole new level. This technique, referred to as “object re-identification,” is used to track an individual through multiple fields of view from different cameras. With law enforcement teams often working from blurred and obscured images when identifying a suspect, this emerging capability is extremely promising despite its current limitations.

Being able to track someone or something by its shape, clothing or gait could best be described as a game-changer for security operators. Using AI, law enforcement could, in theory, track a known threat and detain a suspect before he commits an attack. However, performance improvements in faceless detection are still needed as false match rates continue to run high.

AI + IQ

While AI’s adoption is helping organizations and security professionals proactively prepare for future attacks, it can’t do this alone. It has the power to analyze data quickly and identify patterns, but it can’t necessarily determine if these patterns are relevant. AI needs help from the kind of real, grounded intelligence that only humans can provide. Using the combined power of AI and human intelligence, security teams can truly arm themselves to fend off emerging threats.

Read more here about how AI will impact the airport.