It’s About the Data – Applying Analytics to Step Change Security Screening and Operations

In 2006, Clive Humby, a British mathematician and entrepreneur in the field of data science, declared “Data is the new oil.” This compelling position has been amplified thru the years and referenced in numerous settings for various intents, particularly with the advent of machine learning and AI. While the comparison may often create interesting debate material, what is generally recognized is the finite supply of oil versus the infinite waterfall of data.

Until now, physical security screening and rich front door visitor entry data has been an untapped resource. With legacy screening systems, visitors pass through a security checkpoint as a single, moment-in-time transaction, and because legacy systems are analog, digital data escapes uncaptured in the wind— a missed opportunity.

Moving from analog to digital, Evolv has transformed physical security screening using state-of-the-art sensors and AI-based software. Our systems constantly capture valuable data at this “threshold real estate” which can be mined, analyzed and used for optimizing operational efficiency.


The refinery

Screening and entry data while plentiful is just a raw resource. From our “Data is the new oil” reference, it needs to be processed and refined to derive value. Analytics helps harness the data and extract value to improve your security posture, optimize your resources (both security, general venue operations, and front of house), and ultimately create delighted customers. 

The premise that using data and analytics to optimize operational efficiency is not a quantum physics or atom splitting concept. There’s nothing new here except it’s never been applied in the physical security screening space. In fact, some say that physical security screening is the land that digital transformation forgot. Evolv Technology just unveiled an important enhancement to our Evolv Express® digital, touchless screening system, one that gives companies access to a “refined” repository of data, self-serve analytics, and dashboard tools to improve decision-making across a variety of organization functions. Introducing Evolv Insights™ our powerful, SaaS-based analytics application.

By leveraging the rich data from Express and its machine learning and AI engine, Evolv Insights™ provides security and operations professionals with a single, easy-to-use, self-service dashboard to view, review, analyze and gather insights, from their screening and venue entrance. Example data types are granular 5-minute visitor arrival curves, total venue visitor counts, system detection performance, identified threat category counts and comparisons across multiple business dimensions including sites, entrance doors, event types, system detection settings, time periods and more. 

And this is just the beginning. Future integrations of additional Express sensor data, 3rd party data sources, social feeds like weather, and rich venue enterprise data will expand our ability to provide more predictive and prescriptive venue relevant insights.


Data and actionable insights to optimize operations

Until now, security teams have been forced to make operational decisions based on biased judgement and anecdotal inputs, collected manually under the pressure of time. With automated data collection and actionable insights, security teams move from reactive management and intuition-led decision making, to proactive, data-informed readiness. Resulting actionable insights will empower security teams to transform security, operations, and the holistic visitor experience.

  • Simply Report on Security Performance to Leadership – Quickly review aggregated performance across the install base. This “snapshot” provides unique situational awareness and enables a holistic view of customers’ Express systems to optimize performance. This view is especially helpful when showcasing system performance to leadership teams.
  • Data-driven Improvements to Security Posture – Access individual scanner, location and detection setting comparisons. Drilling down and comparing system performance related to clear rate, visitor counts, arrival curves, and more, enables root cause analysis and inspection by event types, venue locations, individual entrances, and singular scanners.
  • Partner with Operations Teams to Deliver a Better Visitor Experience – Review the density of visitor arrivals with a color-coded heat map and correlated time-series view. Anticipated patron arrivals across seasons, weeks, days, and specific hourly trends by entrance and event type is available. Understanding these load times helps to more effectively plan staffing to provide visitors and employees with a welcoming, line-free experience.

Security seat at the table and value center

The ability for security professionals to advance a “data beats opinion stance” and to provide actionable recommendations across the enterprise will elevate the interaction and effectiveness across functions. Security equipment and leaders will no longer be viewed as a “necessary evil”, but as a coordinated and integral part of overall venue success.

If data is the new oil, analytics is the new refinery!

Working for a Higher Purpose: Keeping People Safe

Lincoln Center is one of the most iconic event spaces in the world, home to the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet, renowned theater spaces and much more. The facilities that comprise Lincoln Center host approximately 5 million visitors a year.

You can imagine that it was quite a feather in our cap to engage Lincoln Center who would eventually become one of the first customers for our original product, Evolv Edge. Driving down to New York to demonstrate a prototype, Rick Abraham and I were as excited as could be. 

Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t last too long. Nothing went according to plan. Try as we might, we couldn’t get the system to work the way we knew it should. It was an early prototype. When you’re in field sales, you know that these things happen. But Rick and I were devastated. We were supposed to go on to visit other customers but, instead, we got in the car and headed back up to Boston. It was one of the longest car rides of my life. 

I can tell that story now because it has a happy ending.  The team at Lincoln Center not only stood by us, they helped us make our product better. They told us in no uncertain terms we had to make our solutions faster to get their patrons safely to their seats in time for their performances. So, we did.

They were demanding in the best ways possible and have become like family to us. Their security team includes several former members of the New York Police Department. They lost colleagues in 9/11 and, like us, have a desire to fulfill a mission that’s larger than themselves.  They were patient and helpful because they believe making the world a safer place through innovative technology is worthwhile.  Because they believed in us, we would do anything for them. There were many times I worked through the night and took a cat nap in my car, safe in their parking garage.

Listening to the Customer

Learning from customers is an important part of our mission at Evolv. Out in the field, I find that many of the people I work with share the same sense of mission, just like the team at Lincoln Center. It is one of the things that attracted me to Evolv and one of the things I love about my job. It doesn’t hurt that security tends to attract a lot of serious and smart people, and many of them also happen to have a great sense of humor.

Being on the front lines with customers, I’ve been known to come back to headquarters with a suggestion or two every once in a while. Well, maybe more than once in a while. From my perspective, I like to think the company counts on me to bring in ideas from the field—and I’m grateful to our leadership because they always listen.

I can think of many instances where feedback from the field ended up in our products. The idea of incorporating a rear camera in the Express came from another customer where a patron voiced a complaint, with the scans from the rear camera, we were able to help resolve the dispute.

With another customer, we were trying to figure out how to get our systems into place easily and quickly. It may seem like a simple fix, but working with the customer’s specific problem, we figured out that we needed to have longer mats—and that’s the product we have today.

A Higher Purpose

From a personal standpoint, I view my own mission as doing something bigger than myself, using work as a way to achieve a higher purpose in life. My mission is to do things to help keep people safe.

Safety is a front and center problem in the world, even more so in our country with the proliferation of automatic weapons. My daughter is a schoolteacher. She has to explain to her students what’s going on when we have shootings like the recent events in Atlanta and in Boulder. The state of the world and the desire for safety touches everyone, in a personal way.

At Evolv, as we continue to grow, it’s important that we bring on all different kinds of people who are like-minded about our mission. We need an army of good people to bring our mission to the world. I used to worry a little bit, being a little bit older myself, are these new young guys and gals we’re bringing in going to make me obsolete? But the people we are bringing on are fantastic and it makes me feel great to be working with these younger folks. They are furthering our mission: To keep people safe in as many places as we can.

“Safe at Home”, Once Again

By Rick Abraham, Vice President, Technical Sales and Solutions, Evolv Technology with Jeff Cahill, Manager Customer Success, Evolv Technology

One of the most rewarding things about our work at Evolv is that we get to help people do the things they love with a greater sense of safety, security, comfort, and convenience. It’s not just something we sense; it’s something we see and experience. It happens in every customer engagement, yet it particularly hit home for Jeff and me working with our first MLB team.

Jeff and I are big baseball fans. We know that one-of-a-kind feeling of going to the ballpark, seeing that lush green diamond and spending the day cheering or commiserating with family, friends and like-minded strangers who share a common bond. Once you’ve had that experience, it becomes a part of your very essence.

In 2020, fans were deprived of that experience because of COVID-19. It was a tough year for professional baseball, as it was for so many of the simple joys in life that we normally take for granted. The teams played the games, but the fans stayed home. 

As we head into the 2021 season, one of the top priorities for Major League Baseball is to bring fans back to the ballpark. Each team must think about delivering a safe experience for everyone who enters. We are proud to be part of our first Major League Baseball security solution to deliver a safe experience for their fans, and anyone else passing through.

Earning Our Place in the Line Up

We were put to the test, and we passed. We have become embedded with the expert security and operations teams. We always say to our customers: “We are an expert in our technology, you are an expert in your space”.  Nothing could be closer to the truth. 

At Evolv, The Mission is Personal

For Jeff and me, and for all of us at Evolv, there is a personal connection to the work we do. We know we are creating a safer and better environment for people to do the things they enjoy or go back to work with less fear and trepidation following the trauma of COVID.

Jeff says the camaraderie in baseball is akin to what he feels working at Evolv, the spirit of all being in it together and believing we can accomplish great things. As he told me the other day: “I’ve never experienced such dedication and commitment in any job I’ve ever had. I feel like I’ve known the people at Evolv forever.”

For many people, baseball is an important part of forging connections. Fathers and sons, grandfathers and granddaughters, friends and family. And as we talked, we both felt a wave of pride knowing that we, in our own small way, are helping reopen ballparks for our country’s favorite pastime and enabling those connections to continue once again at one of the most celebrated and iconic venues in America. What more could you ask for?

Diving into the Award-Winning Artificial Intelligence Technology Behind Evolv Express

It’s always nice to see your work recognized, so it was gratifying to me and the entire team here at Evolv Technology to learn we earned an Artificial Intelligence Excellence Award from the Business Intelligence Group. The award is particularly meaningful because it goes to companies that “bring AI to life and apply it to solve real problems.”

That certainly describes Evolv, which uses AI to fundamentally transform human security screening, which until Evolv, has had to rely on a nearly 100-year-old metal detection technology, purpose-built for finding metal as the name implies. And, as we all know, in today’s world, we carry metal every day – our smartphones. So, it’s about time we start differentiating between a metal that is a threat, and a metal that is not.  

Evolv’s use of AI enables our Evolv Express® touchless screening system to screen some 3,600 people per hour, about 10 times the rate of an outdated walk-through metal detector. It does so without requiring most people to slow down, stop, get frisked, or empty their pockets and bags. That’s a particularly important point during the pandemic; this touchless technology allows for social distancing and requires no contact with people or their belongings – attributes a recent Harris Poll found to be important in getting people back to schoolslive event venues, and workplaces

It’s fitting that our award fell under the “automatic target recognition” application category, one of the earliest applications of radar. As radar was upon its debut, I like to think Evolv’s use of AI for screening is a technological leap forward today. 

Screening technology takes a giant leap forward

A traditional metal detector transmits an electromagnetic field that triggers an alarm upon the detection of metal, so it either finds metal or it doesn’t. If it does, you know the drill – it’s off to the guard with the wand, perhaps a pat-down and emptying of your pockets and bags, and likely another pass through the metal detector, back and forth like a yo-yo. It’s a time-consuming and highly physical interaction and I posit; do you really want to find every bit of metal?

Evolv’s technology combines AI technology with sophisticated state-of-the-art sensors which together not only detect metal but can determine the type of metal and shape of the object. That’s important on a couple of fronts. 

By looking at the data from a wide range of firearms, consumer electronics, and other common metal objects, certain consistent patterns emerge in the metals used, their dimensions, etc.  By applying AI technology, these patterns of metal content and shape can help identify what the object is – a cell phone, a set of keys, or the like. By differentiating between benign objects and threats, there’s no need for people to empty their pockets or bags. 

Well-trained AI and state-of-the-art sensors 

A number of technologies come into play to deliver on that kind of accuracy. 

Our AI model has been trained on nearly 50,000 object scans, including multiple types of firearms along with everyday items that people carry in their pockets or bags. 

Equally crucial is our sensor technology. We use transmitters and receivers that operate in the ultra-low frequency radio wave spectrum. That spectrum is able to deliver the best characterization of properties, enabling us to detect those different types of metals. 

And using multiple other sensors to account for distinct environmental conditions, our software can self-calibrate in the measurement results, to maintain high levels of accuracy. 

Unsung hero: data cleaning and pre-processing

One other ingredient in our secret sauce, and a key to what makes the system effective in real-time, is data cleaning and pre-processing. I think of this technology like a goalie in soccer; they tend to get little fanfare or glory (although plenty of blame), but for a team to excel it needs a good goalie. The same goes for AI when it comes to data pre-processing. 

Pre-processing happens on-site as people are coming through the Evolv Express system. We take all the data that’s coming at us, then factor in any interference nearby along with a series of filters that help us isolate the signals we really care about – the objects people are carrying. By the time we hand off data on a given subject to our AI engine, the data is clean, focused, and crunched into a useable format. The end result is an AI that is robust, efficient, and simple, relatively speaking. Of course, operators don’t need to know anything about the technology itself. While Evolv Express may be full of sophisticated technology, it’s simple to use.  

Harnessing the power of AI 

Hopefully, this gives you some sense of the power that AI brings to everyday applications like screening – and how it’s a sea change from the traditional metal detector. While the technology behind Evolv Express was in development well before anyone ever heard of Covid-19, it’s clear it offers an effective solution to keeping people safe from weapons and intruders, and socially distanced and safe from health threats as they return to schools, ticketed venues, and workplaces. 

I’m gratified that the folks at Business Intelligence Group could see the value in Evolv Express and saw fit to recognize us with an Artificial Intelligence Excellence Award.

Read our Press Release

The Next Step in Democratizing Security

In view of today’s announcement, I wanted to provide a little more color about how this all relates to our mission and why this moment is so important to that mission. People who join Evolv, including me, come here because we want to make the world a safe place to live, work, learn, and play. We think of ourselves as the human security company because we want security to be less invasive, more human and effective. 

I believe this mission is now more urgent than ever because we’re the only company democratizing security in a way that will actually make a difference. That’s a bold statement, but we’re living in a time when bold action is required. Democratizing security is going to be a huge effort, and I believe we’re much more likely to pull it off as a public company.  Here’s why we’re so passionate about doing this right now, in this way.

The world is more dangerous than ever before. There were 661 mass shootings in the United States in 2020, a 40% annual increase in a year when most gathering spaces were restricted or shut down. New gun purchases were up 64% last year in the United States, a country that already had more guns than people. US CDC research says 40% of adults reported recent battles with mental health or substance abuse during 2020, with the prevalence of anxiety up 3X and depression up 4X year on year. Some of that anxiety may recede as we come to terms with the pandemic, but all those guns are still out there and the polarization and inequality that drive many acts of violence remain. In this chronically volatile environment, keeping weapons out of gathering spaces must be a top priority for every venue and facility.

Consumers demand touchless experiences everywhere. Even before the pandemic, seemingly every aspect of the consumer experience was going touchless: payments, tickets, retail, bathroom fixtures, doors, minivan hatches, you name it. Crowded security lines and hands-on bag checks were just a nuisance in the past, but now they are unthinkable. No one wants security guards touching their stuff or their person without good reason. The future of the security experience must be touchless and fast.

Analog security processes won’t cut it anymore. Traditional security products are too slow, costly, and error prone for today’s world. Even the most motivated well-trained guards can only do so much, especially when they are fighting a flood of nuisance alarms from outdated analog technology that can’t tell the difference between a gun and a phone. As I wrote last year, I believe that the future of security is fully digital.  This digital transformation will not only reduce costs, but also unlock innovations that transform the experience from a trial to be endured into a social gathering to be enjoyed.

Security screening isn’t just for airports and jails anymore. It comes as no surprise that very few of the 661 mass shootings in the U.S. last year happened at airports or jails, where security screening is mandatory. The shootings happened at all the other places where people gather: schools, industrial workplaces, offices, malls, places of worship, and stadiums. These facilities need the protection that security screening provides, but they’ll never deploy it at scale until it costs far less without the jailhouse or airport experience. That’s what we do, and we’re now ready to scale it up.

The barriers to democratizing security have fallen. Security screening operations based on our technology costs up to 70% less than traditional screening based on walk-through metal detectors, and we do it up to 10 times faster. And we offer our technology under a modern annual subscription pricing model that reduces up-front costs and gives customers access to future product enhancements. Our customers tell us that we find weapons their old systems would have missed, that their employees and visitors love the experience, and that the promised cost savings are real. In summary, it is now possible for most large facilities to keep dangerous weapons out while keeping visitors, students and employees happy.

The capital we raise through today’s transaction will help us build toward realizing our vision and accomplishing our mission. That means extending our product portfolio, ramping up our sales and marketing activities, and scaling up production of our current products. Being a public company provides access to capital for these activities both now and in the future.

The SPAC approach to becoming a public company has been fantastic because it not only accelerates the whole process of becoming a public company, but also allows us to work with the team at NewHold. Their deep networks, expertise, and experience will be very useful as we rapidly scale our disruptive businesses.


Forward-Looking Statements 

This document contains certain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the federal securities laws with respect to the proposed transaction between NewHold Investment Corp. (“NewHold”) and Evolv Technologies, Inc. (“Evolv”). These forward-looking statements generally are identified by the words “believe,” “project,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “estimate,” “intend,” “strategy,” “future,” “opportunity,” “plan,” “may,” “should,” “will,” “would,” “will be,” “will continue,” “will likely result,” and similar expressions. Forward-looking statements are predictions, projections and other statements about future events that are based on current expectations and assumptions and, as a result, are subject to risks and uncertainties. Many factors could cause actual future events to differ materially from the forward-looking statements in this document, including but not limited to: (i) the risk that the transaction may not be completed in a timely manner or at all, which may adversely affect the price of NewHold’s securities, (iii) the failure to satisfy the conditions to the consummation of the transaction, including the adoption of the Agreement and Plan of Merger, dated as of March 5, 2021 (the “Merger Agreement”), by and among NewHold, Evolv and NHIC Merger Sub Inc., a Delaware corporation and a direct wholly owned subsidiary of NewHold, by the stockholders of NewHold, the satisfaction of the minimum trust account amount following redemptions by NewHold’s public stockholders and the receipt of certain governmental and regulatory approvals, (iv) the lack of a third party valuation in determining whether or not to pursue the transaction, (v) the inability to complete the PIPE investment in connection with the transaction, (vi) the occurrence of any event, change or other circumstance that could give rise to the termination of the Merger Agreement, (vii) the effect of the announcement or pendency of the transaction on Evolv Aviation’s business relationships, operating results and business generally, (viii) risks that the proposed transaction disrupts current plans and operations of Evolv and potential difficulties in Evolv employee retention as a result of the transaction, (ix) the outcome of any legal proceedings that may be instituted against Evolv or against NewHold related to the Merger Agreement or the transaction, (x) the ability to maintain the listing of NewHold’s securities on a national securities exchange, (xi) the price of NewHold’s securities may be volatile due to a variety of factors, including changes in the competitive and highly regulated industries in which NewHold plans to operate or Evolv operates, variations in operating performance across competitors, changes in laws and regulations affecting NewHold’s or Evolv’s business and changes in the combined capital structure, (xii) the ability to implement business plans, forecasts, and other expectations after the completion of the transaction, and identify and realize additional opportunities, and (xiii) the risk of downturns and a changing regulatory landscape in Evolv’s highly competitive industry. The foregoing list of factors is not exhaustive. You should carefully consider the foregoing factors and the other risks and uncertainties described in the “Risk Factors” section of NewHold’s registration on Form S-1 (File No. 333-239822), the registration statement on Form S-4 discussed above and other documents filed by NewHold from time to time with the SEC. These filings identify and address other important risks and uncertainties that could cause actual events and results to differ materially from those contained in the forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date they are made. Readers are cautioned not to put undue reliance on forward-looking statements, and except as required by law NewHold and Evolv assume no obligation and do not intend to update or revise these forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events, or otherwise. Neither NewHold nor Evolv gives any assurance that either NewHold or Evolv or the combined company will achieve its expectations.

Any financial projections in this communication are forward-looking statements that are based on assumptions that are inherently subject to significant uncertainties and contingencies, many of which are beyond NewHold’s and Evolv’s control. While all projections are necessarily speculative, NewHold and Evolv believe that the preparation of prospective financial information involves increasingly higher levels 

of uncertainty the further out the projection extends from the date of preparation. The assumptions and estimates underlying the projected results are inherently uncertain and are subject to a wide variety of significant business, economic and competitive risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in the projections. The inclusion of projections in this communication should not be regarded as an indication that NewHold and Evolv, or their representatives, considered or consider the projections to be a reliable prediction of future events.

Important Information for Investors and Stockholders

This document relates to a proposed transaction between NewHold and Evolv. This document does not constitute an offer to sell or exchange, or the solicitation of an offer to buy or exchange, any securities, nor shall there be any sale of securities in any jurisdiction in which such offer, sale or exchange would be unlawful prior to registration or qualification under the securities laws of any such jurisdiction. NewHold intends to file a registration statement on Form S-4 with the SEC, which will include a document that serves as a prospectus and proxy statement of NewHold, referred to as a proxy statement/prospectus. A proxy statement/prospectus will be sent to all NewHold stockholders. NewHold also will file other documents regarding the proposed transaction with the SEC. Before making any voting decision, investors and security holders of NewHold are urged to read the registration statement, the proxy statement/prospectus and all other relevant documents filed or that will be filed with the SEC in connection with the proposed transaction as they become available because they will contain important information about the proposed transaction.

Investors and security holders will be able to obtain free copies of the registration statement, the proxy statement/prospectus and all other relevant documents filed or that will be filed with the SEC by NewHold through the website maintained by the SEC at www.sec.gov. Alternatively, these documents, when available, can be obtained free of charge from NewHold upon written request to NewHold Investment Corp., c/o NewHold Enterprises, LLC, 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, Suite 2005, New York, New York 10017, Attn: Charlie Baynes-Reid, or by calling (212) 653-0153, or by email at info@newholdllc.com

Participants in the Solicitation

NewHold and Evolv and their respective directors and executive officers may be deemed to be participants in the solicitation of proxies from NewHold’s stockholders in connection with the proposed transaction. A list of the names of the directors and executive officers of NewHold and information regarding their interests in the business combination will be contained in the proxy statement/prospectus when available. You may obtain free copies of these documents as described in the preceding paragraph.

This communication does not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities or a solicitation of any vote or approval, nor shall there be any sale of any securities in any state or jurisdiction in which such offer, solicitation, or sale would be unlawful prior to registration or qualification under the securities laws of such other jurisdiction.

Manchester City’s new Touchless Security Screening

Supporters will Benefit from an Improved Matchday Experience at the Etihad Stadium

Welcoming thousands of supporters into sports stadia in a time-efficient manner has always been a priority for clubs around the world.

With the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic ensuring that the highest standards of public health and safety are maintained, alongside an efficient and smooth operation, has never been more important.

New Technology

In June of 2019, Manchester City FC entered into discussions with Evolv about the company’s Evolv Express® system, which provides security screening using touchless technology.

The club witnessed firsthand the free-flow nature of the touchless system the company provides, benefiting from the ability to screen thousands of supporters in a timeframe that would not have been achievable before.

Following the onset of the Coronavirus, the world of sports shut down and the once vibrant matchday which saw thousands of supporters enjoying live sport fell silent.

Over the summer months, the English Premier League began ‘Project Restart’ to bring the sport back in a ‘Behind Closed Doors’ format. Whilst this meant that Manchester City supporters were unable to attend matches, the wider club operation sprang back into action with new guidelines in place to protect everyone on site at the Etihad Stadium, which included social distancing.

Evolv Express was piloted for the remainder of the season’s matches and was used to ensure that everyone who entered the stadium was able to do so in a manner which prioritised health and safety, as well as ensuring they benefited from an efficient experience with minimal queuing times.

When the Etihad Stadium is permitted to reopen its doors to supporters again, Evolv Express will remain in place so that supporters can be welcomed back with fast, touchless and respectful screening, providing them with an enhanced matchday experience.

“We chose Evolv to enhance the supporter experience at the Etihad Stadium to ensure that the screening process on arrival is a smooth and seamless operation.”

~ MANCHESTER CITY FC

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Digital Threshold News: A Conversation on Innovation, Ideation and Data

Where is the pace of innovation, ideation and data heading? It’s a substantial question with multiple answers. Technology and those behind it are at their crux problem-solvers, and the world still has plenty of problems to solve.

In looking at technology’s future, Evolv started the year utilizing its next episode of Digital Threshold Live to talk about innovation, the art of the possible, tech trends that are emerging and what’s next.

Host Anil Chitkara, Evolv Technology Co-founder and Head of Corporate Development, invited Bilal Zuberi, Partner at Lux Capital and Evolv Advisor, to the show. Lux Capital focuses on “investing in people inventing the future.” Zuberi has a passion for startups that solve big, practical problems. His insight and experience brought lots of hot topics to the surface during the conversation. 

Zuberi’s Story

Zuberi is a Pakistani immigrant that came to the U.S. for school whose father joked he should learn to make toothpaste.

“My dad told me to learn how to make toothpaste, because it was expensive, but they don’t teach you that studying chemistry,” he said.

What he did learn would fuel his American dream story. After earning his Ph.D. from MIT, he went from academia to industry.

“I wanted to make an impact on a greater number of people,” Zuberi said.

And he has by investing in companies that bring a greater value to society through technology that helps all and pushes humans to the next frontier. 

The Source of Innovation Has Shifted

Zuberi also spoke about the major changes with innovation. The patent system began the invention economy, but innovation was top-down until the past few decades, starting with the military, then commercial, then the consumer. 

The consumer technology evolution turned this around, as risk capital became available on the basis of an idea. Zuberi cites the iPhone is a great example. The touchscreen was a consumer product before it moved to other applications. That paradigm shift sets up where the world is now on innovation.

Tech Trends and Themes

So, how does Zuberi make investment decisions? Many times, it’s a process that starts with one company and plots a path. 

“We invested in a company that made satellite antennas, and they told us about a company producing nanosatellites, and then that led to a company using machine learning and AI to process satellite imagery. Then it was a cloud company to hold the data,” he said.

The themes he’s currently most excited about are biocomputation and simulations. Simulations allow you to model the physics of the space then throw in many different variations of what could happen. This type of application is very conducive to security in venues.

“With scenario modeling to plan, then real-time responses improve, [it’s about] turning data into how to respond, not just what’s happening,” Zuberi explained. 

Simulation can lead to better decision-making and making people and places safer. While the technology used in such an application isn’t unique, as it could be replicated, the differentiator is the speed of innovation.

What Did CES Show the World about Innovation?

To cap the conversation, Zuberi and Chitkara spoke about this year’s virtual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Trends that Zuberi picked up on relate to our current world.

“We’ve brought things outside of the home to the inside—education, healthcare, work, food, which leads to new problems and new technology,” he said. 

Business models for technology are also evolving. First, it was sell something, then sell something better in two years. Then it was sell the hardware and the software. Now, the hardware is free, but the subscription is the revenue generator.

Other key topics included automation and specificity – the idea of a solution that’s smarter and more targeted, not simply automated, trends in sanitization, the infrastructure our world will need to better accommodate innovative technology solutions, and more.

The service is what matters now, Zuberi believes. He also noted that there’s a quote of “software eating the world.” The answer? Data and simulation can fill it back up. The trick is to use the data deliver better solutions and experiences.

Watch the Entire Conversation

To view our OnDemand version of Episode 6, click here or the video below:

Too busy to sit in front of your laptop and watch these webcasts? We also offer these as a podcast. The Digital Threshold Podcast series is available on Apple, Google or Spotify.

 

Survey Shows Fast, Reliable Screening is Crucial to Bringing Back Live Events

The Harris Poll survey shows event-goers are just as concerned about physical safety as COVID protection – and not satisfied with traditional metal detectors.

While these days we all yearn to return to some semblance of normal life, most aren’t going to feel comfortable returning to concerts, sporting events and the like for several months after the pandemic has subsided. The reluctance largely has to do with screening methods that, while necessary and welcome, create lines and crowding that are unacceptable to large swaths of would-be event attendees.

This is one finding from a survey of more than 500 people who attended a concert, sporting event or other live, ticketed event in 2019. Conducted by The Harris Poll in mid-Sept. through early October 2020, the survey made it clear attendees want to see both adequate COVID-related measures in place as well as traditional safety precautions such as metal detectors – but without the lines. It’s a result that should have sports teams, event producers and venue facility managers looking for new ways to make attendees feel comfortable with screening processes while greatly increasing their efficiency and effectiveness.

Social distancing is top of mind

Survey respondents made clear they’re more comfortable returning to events such as conferences, workshops and conventions where social distancing is more easily accomplished and enforced. On average, respondents said they’d be comfortable attending such events within two to three months after federal, state and local restrictions allow (see Figure 1). For events that are generally more crowded, like concerts and sporting events, the median was four to six months.

Figure 1

That finding is consistent with The Harris Poll’s ongoing COVID-19 Tracker surveys, said Erica Parker, Managing Director at The Harris Poll, who recently joined me for a webinar to go over the results.

“It’s clear from that kind of data that it’s a bigger lift to get people to ticketed events,” as compared to dining at a restaurant or returning to the office, she said. “Venue and facility managers are going to need to do some work to restore public confidence and get people back and feeling comfortable doing these activities.”

Part of the issue is, unlike some workers and school-aged children, consumers have the luxury of simply opting not to go to events. They can also be choosier about the protocols in place before they’re willing to return.

Safety concerns run deeper than COVID

What’s more, it’s not just COVID-19 that has folks concerned. While 81% of survey respondents said they are concerned or very concerned about the pandemic, other issues garner the same or even more concern:

  • Mass shootings: 83% concerned or very concerned
  • Street crime – 82%
  • Protest-related civil unrest/violence – 81%
  • Terrorism – 72%

81% of event attendees are concerned about COVID-19 but even more are concerned about mass shootings (83%) and street crime (82%).

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (71%) believe crime has increased over the past year. In the Midwest, the figure is 79% vs. 63% in the South. Residents in rural areas are likewise more likely to think crime is on the rise, 82% vs. 62% for suburbanites.

All this adds up to 69% of respondents believing the risk of violence in public spaces is higher than it was a year ago. Nearly 3 in 10 respondents (28%) say it’s unsafe to go out in public. That’s especially true in the Northeast (35%) but far less so in the Midwest (18%).

69% of respondents think the risk of violence in public spaces is higher than a year ago. Nearly 3 in 10 say it’s unsafe to go out in public.

Against that backdrop, it’s not hard to understand why 79% of survey respondents either agree or strongly agree that screening makes them feel more comfortable at events. This is the case even though they cite numerous problems with traditional screening measures, from lines that slow the process and make social distancing impossible to relying on fallible human intervention (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

On the other hand, respondents clearly appreciate efforts to make screening safer and more efficient post-pandemic. Asked how likely they are to return to a venue that has various features in place, 86% said they were somewhat or strongly likely to visit venues that have hand sanitizer stations and touchless screening in place along with plexiglass shields (85%). Other desirable features include:

  • Walk-through body temperature measurements: 84%
  • Social distancing floor markings: 84%
  • Mandatory face masks: 81%
  • Handheld thermometer checks: 79%

Protecting venues

Traditional metal detector screens, which require attendees to empty their bags and pockets, and potentially be subject to a pat-down, still induce more positive than negative feelings. But the negatives are significant.

Asked how this type of screening would make them feel, 75% said “calm” but nearly a third (32%) said “anxious.” And while 73% said it would make them “confident,” more than one in five (21%) said they’d be “fearful.” Nearly three-quarters (74%) said the screening would make them feel “satisfied” but 30% said they’d be “irritated.” Anxious, fearful and irritated is no way to enjoy an event.

Respondents were also asked what risks they would be willing to accept during a mid-pandemic screening process. The answers point to more challenges for venue operators and managers, as attendees will not tolerate use of outdated technology (61%), slow or inefficient screening processes (58%), false positives, meaning mistaking a harmless item for a weapon (52%), and even the possibility of human error (50%). 

Perhaps most telling, nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) said they would simply not join a line in which people were not socially distancing. Think about that: it means someone has a ticket to an event, gets to the venue, sees a line that violates social distancing guidelines and decides to forego the event.

“When you think about the intersection of COVID and metal detector screening, and the fact that it can create long security lines, [event attendees are] not interested in that,” The Harris Poll’s Parker said. Newer technology can make a difference, though. “We find that 87% are likely to return to facilities and venues if there was a touchless security screening,” she said.

The vast majority of respondents (87%) say they are likely to return to facilities and venues if touchless security screening is in place.

That makes sense because newer touchless security screening systems create an altogether different experience. There’s no need to empty pockets, because the system can detect items that are in your pockets and differentiate, say, a gun from a metal keychain or phone. By the same token, you can carry bags through the screening system; there’s no need to empty them out. The systems are reliable enough that there are far fewer false positives, which means there’s almost no need for pat-downs.

All of these attributes contribute to another big advantage of touchless systems: they’re much faster. Evolv Express, for example, uses artificial intelligence and advanced sensors to screen up to 3,600 people per hour, about 10 times faster than legacy metal detectors.

New workplace requirements

The Harris Poll makes clear that while COVID-19 is a top concern for event attendees, their physical safety is just as important. But given the COVID requirements for social distancing, it’s equally clear that we need to investigate new ways to keep attendees safe and secure.

Consumers will appreciate facilities that implement a touchless approach, given 79% agreed that knowing everyone is screened upon entering a venue makes them more comfortable. And nearly three quarters (74%) agreed that metal detection systems make it impossible to socially distance while in line.

With a system like Evolv Express, you can get ahead of the curve and ensure potential attendees you value their safety, putting them more at ease – and more likely to attend your events. Click here to learn more.

Watch Digital Threshold Live Episode 3 here:

Download our infographic for additional statistics.

A Look Back at How We “Evolved” in 2020

While last year was filled with an abundance of sadness, uncertainty and civil unrest, it’s important not to overlook accomplishments and successes. As we put our 2021 plan into motion, I’d like to highlight the key awards, news coverage, launches, customer achievements and key lessons from 2020 that have set us up for an outstanding 2021. But first, I’d like to say how grateful we are for our customers and partners; you continue to put your trust and confidence in us to keep your visitors and employees safe.

January…Making Strategic Moves for the Year Ahead

At the beginning of 2020, Evolv made several strategic moves to scale operations and meet the unprecedented demand for free-flow weapons screening by raising $30 million in growth capital from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and others, promoting Peter George to CEO and expanding our research, development and productization efforts led by Co-founder Mike Ellenbogen. 

Finback Investment Partners

Little did we know that those moves would help us keep our doors open through the pandemic and establish our market leadership among security screening companies worldwide, setting us up to assist venues and facilities to safely reopen throughout the year. As 2020 momentum was building, we were recognized as a great place to work, honored as one of Built in Boston’s prestigious Best Small Companies to Work for in 2020.

February…Working Towards our Mission of Making it Safer to Learn

One month into the year, we took huge strides in living our mission of making it safer to learn by partnering with two South Carolina school districts who installed Evolv’s AI-based, free-flow weapons-detection systems. Taking proactive measures to keep students safe was paramount for both school districts, given the increasing frequency of school shootings and related incidents. Dr. Mark Smith, Director of Student Services and Safety at Spartanburg 6, the first school in the nation to use Evolv’s AI-based free-flow weapons detection system stated, “We wanted to incorporate security technology not because we had any incidents, but because we wanted to ensure we never have one. I’d been researching security strategies and next generation technologies searching for a solution that delivered optimal security while providing a welcoming, non-prison-like environment for everyone on campus. I’d been coming up short until I discovered Evolv. They checked all the boxes.” As much as that statement meant to us, the most meaningful moment of the deployment was having a student walk over after the initial installation and say, “thank you, I finally feel safe.” That’s why we do what we do. It was Spartanburg’s ability to see beyond “the norm” that set all of this in motion and established a new baseline of security for schools across the nation.

March… Unprecedented Achievement for Evolv…and the Pandemic Took Hold

Just weeks after launching Evolv Express™ in school districts, and as the pandemic sadly began to spread, we were honored for outstanding campus security services and products, by being recognized by Campus Security & Life Safety with a Platinum Perimeter Protection and a Gold Screening Equipment 2020 Secure Campus Award. One week later, as we settled into our “work from home” routines, we were awarded the world’s most revered innovation award, a Gold 2020 Edison Award in the Threat Defense and Security Category.  Winning an award of this caliber against elite competition worldwide was a true honor for everyone at Evolv.

April…Regrouping and Re-Engineering to Address the Pandemic Health Threat

In April, as all non-essential businesses shut down, or started to find a “work from home” rhythm, we saw a massive increase in factory worker hiring and an increase in uncertainty, civil unrest and the start of ongoing violence. We also saw a shift in security threats.  No longer were CSOs and COOs worrying solely about weapons as threats, now they had to worry about health threats as well.  Our executive team was refining our strategy, while engineering and product management started reshaping our roadmap. Security screening as we knew it was probably changing forever, and our solution was more important now than ever before.

While it would have been so easy to become stuck in what we coined, “the COVID fog”, our employees rallied together, hunkered down and worked even longer hours to serve our customer mission globally and sustain manufacturing.

First on the list for our updated product roadmap was to evaluate and build an add-on thermal imaging package to help venues and facilities spot individuals with elevated skin temperature who might be possible health threats. While our support team managed calls assisting venues with reallocating systems to different locations, our marketing team developed a customer spotlight program to drive awareness and business to customers online, and our Customer Success Team established a Best Practice program for customers, setting up customer meetings to field questions, help share trends and lessons learned across industries as everyone worked together to keep our various communities safe. And while the teams were hard at work, working remote and assisting customers meet the new security demands, we were honored by the Tech Tribune as a 2020 Best Tech Startup in Waltham

May…Time for Adaptive Recovery

Throughout the uncertainty of the pandemic, we continued to be surprised and honored, and in May we earned a spot on Inc. Magazine’s 2020 Best Workplaces List, where they recognize successful businesses that value company culture, offer standout worker benefits and prioritize employee well-being. This award helped shine a light on why we all love working for Evolv…it’s a family and we all are driving towards the mission of keeping people safe. Our customer partnerships are an extension of that family, and we knew we had to do everything possible to help venues and facilities adapt and recover. We were lucky enough to be able to call on one of our Advisors, Juliette Kayyem, to host an hour-long webinar discussing the adaptive recovery process for schools, workplaces and ticketed venues.  She was able to offer hundreds of venues and facilities strategic guidance into how to adapt and recover during this unprecedented time.

June…Reopening America with Touchless Security Screening

Since the launch of Evolv Express, interest in the free-flow, respectful, fast screening had been strong.  What we hadn’t focused on until the pandemic was its “touchless” capability. Because Express offers free-flow screening, and drastically reduces the need for secondary screening, we realized that Express was the only screening solution out there that enables social-distancing at entrances while still screening people as they walked in the door.  And, in June, we were grateful to help reopen some North American sites with touchless security screening starting at Six Flags locations nationwide, Set Jet and several others.  Together we were reimagining security in the recreation space.

What once was a “nice-to-have”, was now an imperative. People refuse to be touched. People cannot and will not stand in lines. And, Express was and is the one solution that enables safe screening at a distance. It was an ‘Aha!’ moment for all of us…

July…Taking the Temperature on Thermal Imaging as Touchless Screening Demand Surges

As customers such as Georgia Aquarium, Six Flags Theme Parks and others reopened throughout the summer with Express systems in place, we saw a demand surge for touchless security screening. We also were hearing of many other new security tactics and operations solutions enabling touchless guest experiences that were being adopted by our customers. We called upon Anthony Rivera from Georgia Aquarium and Todd Fasulo of Wynn Resorts, to host the webinar “It’s Time to go Touchless”. Their years of experience in both security and hospitality left us with a number of important takeaways, including: 1) Adopt a culture of relentless innovation; all things can be improved upon; 2) Think “five-star experience” as you approach every step of your guest, visitor or employee journey; and 3) Engage your full leadership team, ensuring public safety AND public health are organization-wide strategic imperatives.

In keeping with the notion of “going touchless”, Evolv was thrilled to launch our thermal imaging package for Express. Venues and facilities could now screen for both weapons and elevated skin temperature in an integrated, touchless fashion ensuring safe screening for all involved.

August…A Global Partnership is Announced and Cultural Institutions Begin to Reopen

In August, we announced a global partnership with STANLEY Security, the world’s second-largest electronic security company. As a result, organizations receive unparalleled expertise and the full spectrum of value-added services from the two combined companies. Shortly after our partnership was announced, we were honored by Campus Safety Magazine with the Campus Safety Best Electronic Systems Technologies (BEST) award for the “Inspection & Detection Equipment” category. As CEO Peter George stated, “As classrooms begin to reopen, public officials, administrators and security professionals alike share a commitment to do so safely. Keeping people safe is Evolv’s core mission and we’re honored to be recognized by Campus Safety magazine’s 2020 BEST awards for the tremendous value Evolv Express brings to campuses nationwide.”

Just as schools were beginning to reopen and find a “new normal”, so too were museums and cultural institutions, such as those in New York City. Our customer success team spent the month working with customers like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History and several others to ensure a smooth and safe reopening.

September…A Golden Ticket to Safety and the Rise of the Digital Threshold

In September our teams were now in full swing working with customers nationwide as they slowly and carefully reopened, several of which were proudly showcasing new attractions, exhibits and entrances. One such customer was Hersheypark, who used the shutdown time to finish rebuilding a brand new entrance for a better customer experience including the incorporation of touchless screening to eliminate the need for person-by-person manual bag checks. With metal detectors, it typically took the park four to five seconds per person for screening, regularly followed by hand searching of bags or other personal items, so not only was this a welcomed change by park guests, but the park’s security professionals emphasized how easy it was to learn and use the system while optimizing their staff resources.

As mentioned earlier, Six Flags also updated their entrances, in fact, they won an Amusement Today Golden Ticket Innovation of the Year Award for their entrance improvements which included incorporating Evolv Express for park guest screening.

By mid-September, we had spent months talking to customers, analyzing market trends and watching nationwide violence and civil unrest hit new highs. We used that newly found knowledge coupled with expertise in both the physical and digital security spaces to build a new vision, one where the physical and digital security realms merge, and our CEO published “The Rise of the Digital Threshold” piece illustrating our thoughts on security of the future.

Rise of the Digital Threshold

Tied to that new vision, we launched a webcast series called Digital Threshold Live where Co-founder Anil Chitkara talks with security, operations and guest experience professionals about emerging trends, lessons learned and so much more.

October…The Current Threat Environment and Reopening Safely

Kicking off the month of October, we held our first episode of Digital Threshold Live. In the first episode, Anil talked about safely reopening New York’s premiere arts venues with Keith Prewitt, Chief Security Officer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lisa Schroeder, Director of Finance, Performance and Campus Operations for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and Thomas Slade, Senior Security Director for the American Museum of Natural History.  

Our second episode was held three weeks later where Anil sat one-on-one with Managing Director of Corporate Safety and Security for Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, Jason White, to discuss trust and confidence being the foundation of delivering an exceptional visitor experience. In each of these episodes, Anil and the guest speakers covered a variety of topics related to public safety, public health, the customer journey and the path back to normal.

Mid-way through the month, we proudly sponsored Counter Terror Business’ CTB365 event where our European Sales Director, Nathan Bailey, gave a virtual keynote presentation around “the current threat environment and the need for layered security strategy”, and then Co-founder Anil Chitkara joined esteemed security professionals and advocates in the final Panel Discussion & Round-up featuring: Philip Ingram, Figen Murray, Rick Mounfield, Paul Jeffrey, Gary Simpson and Nick Aldworth.

While a majority of outdoor ticketed venues were finding ways to reopen throughout the summer and fall, many of our beloved performing arts venues, stadiums and indoor arenas were unfortunately dealing with a different situation. Many sports venues allowed the games to take place, but they were without fans and most of their employees, such as Manchester Arena. For some performing arts venues, opening up was highly dependent on location. For instance, Omaha Performing Arts Venue was able to reopen in October after installing Evolv Express as their new security scanners to eliminate close contact between employees and attendees and changing to cashless transactions.

Others, such as Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, created an online community for arts lovers to enjoy music and live performances virtually in what they call “Lincoln Center at Home”. Others took innovation and “thinking outside the box” to a new level. Dr. Phillips Center decided if people can’t be inside to see the performances, they’d bring the performances outside to the people. And, in October they announced their new series “Frontyard Festival”, an all-new outdoor, six-month long festival for downtown Orlando that started in December. Front Yard Festival features live entertainment in a safe, socially-distanced environment, using Evolv Express as part of their security operation.

November…Time for Research

While we are in constant communication with venues and facilities throughout the world who provide a wealth of anecdotal information, we were thirsty for formal data.  To help venues and facilities with their planning assumptions for 2021, we decided it was time for market research. With Harris Insights we embarked on a survey. This Harris Poll was conducted online with more than 1,500 American adults who have a personal stake in the security screening experience: consumers who attended ticketed events in 2019 (n=506), parents of school-aged children (n=712), and workers at large factories, warehouses and distribution centers (n=504). Anil and Erica Parker, managing director at The Harris Poll, reviewed these research results and discussed the implications for workplaces, schools, ticketed venues and other facilities in mid-November in Episode 3 of Evolv’s Digital Threshold Live webcast series.

December…Putting a Bow on 2020

In the beginning of the month, Mahesh Saptharishi, CTO at Motorola Solutions, joined Anil in Episode 4 of Digital Threshold Live: “Why Technology Convergence in the Digital Threshold Matters” to talk about the technological possibilities at the intersection of sensors and AI, exploring the business drivers, the technology and ultimately the effect on humans. He told us that “Machine learning are the core algorithmic capabilities that power AI,” and with regards to physical security, “when cameras, or when systems, see things, detect objects or respond to what the objects are doing in the scene, that is artificial intelligence, but that ability to detect and the ability for that system to adapt to the environment is powered by machine learning algorithms.”

In December we received three honors. Frost & Sullivan recognized Evolv with the 2020 North American Technology Innovation Leadership Award for Evolv Express™ publishing a full industry report. BostInno named us one of Boston’s hottest startups with an Inno on Fire 2020 Blazer Award; and we were awarded a 2020 Platinum ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Award from American Security Today.

To tie a bow around what we learned from 2020 and put it to work in 2021, Anil welcomed Courtney Adante, President and Security Risk Advisor, and Jonathan Wackrow, Managing Director and Global Head of Security from Teneo, a global CEO consulting and advisory firm to join him for Digital Threshold Live Episode 5 – Resilience Is A Competitive Necessity: Learnings From 2020 And Considerations For 2021. Resilience is central, it’s an organization’s ability to respond, recover and rebound, and the challenges of 2020 have made it abundantly clear that resilience planning is critical.

Looking Ahead to 2021

Throughout the year, several themes emerged among our customers and their industries: 1) touchless solutions are the key to building confidence and customer reengagement; 2) sharing lessons learned across institutions and venues within one’s industry is a true treasure; 3) a layered security strategy is the only way to adapt and recover from any tragic event; and 4) the security landscape and the CSO’s role has changed forever.

As we move into the second week of 2021, I hope you and your organization are able to use what we’ve learned to build a more robust security infrastructure and customer experience for 2021.  We look forward to our continued partnerships and for those who haven’t yet reached out to have a conversation, I’m only an email or phone call away. And, don’t forget to check back periodically for the latest Digital Threshold Live event.

Cheers, here’s to a successful and safe 2021, and thank you for entrusting us with your safety.

Simplicity is in the Details: Addressing the Deep-Tech Challenges of the Digital Threshold

A conversation between Evolv Technology’s Founder and Head of Advanced Technology Mike Ellenbogen and Chief Scientist Alec Rose.

Evolv Technology started as a small team with a clear mission: return confidence and peace of mind to people visiting public spaces by changing the paradigm of how security professionals can assure venues are safe from the most serious threats without compromising visitor experience. While this mission was created during ongoing and escalating terrorist threats and attacks, it was well before our current global pandemic environment. But it has never been more relevant or more prescient. According to the recent Harris Insights poll, “Consumer Sentiment – Advancements in Security Screening,” the pandemic has only served to heighten consumer, employee, and visitor expectations and safety and security awareness when it comes to work, travel, shopping, entertainment, and general interactions.

It is this core mission that has attracted innovative people like Chief Scientist Alec Rose to Evolv. According to Alec, he was “doomed from the get go” when it came to math and, later, physics. He grew up with a math teacher mother and electrical engineer father and solved “fun mental math problems” from a young age. His path to Evolv, and developing complex algorithms to solve the basic idea of keeping people safe while they do their ordinary things, seemed destined.

I sat down with Alec to understand what drives him to solve the big deep-tech challenges of the space we call the digital threshold.

Mike Ellenbogen: What brought you to Evolv?

Alec Rose: I always found math fun and interesting, but I needed a real problem to apply it to. Physics was that pathway because it’s about fitting the simplest possible model to a complex problem. I definitely see myself as a physicist—I love it and am always looking for a new piece of the puzzle to learn and new tools to apply. I studied physics in college. From there I got my electrical engineering PhD degree at Duke, although even then I did everything I could to take all my courses out of the physics department to stay close to math and theory.

At Duke, I worked with Professor David Smith who was developing metamaterials for millimeter wave imaging. You and Anil (Evolv co-founder Anil Chitkara) had been following David and his work and started Evolv to essentially commercialize this work. Through this, I met you both. One thing led to another and I became Evolv’s Director of Advanced Development in 2013 and then Chief Scientist in 2020. The evolution of my role here has allowed me to blend my desire to distill a complex problem down to the simplest possible model, with the goal of keeping people safe in a non-intrusive way.

Mike: How are you able to blend these to address the deep-tech challenges of the digital threshold?

Alec: I’ll never forget one of the first things I learned in my college Intro to Physics class. We were presented with a seemingly complex problem: what happens when a horse gets struck by lightning? To break it down, our professor instructed us to start with the assumption that the horse is a giant metal sphere, because we know how to solve for this simplification. There’s no need to get bogged down by the microscopic details. Instead, always try to distill the problem down to its simplest form to get a tangible, actionable answer. I use this as a guiding principle every day at Evolv.

My graduate work was in electromagnetics and specifically the area of metamaterials, which is essentially a toolbox of solutions for creating artificial composites to solve different problems. If we wanted to bend light a particular way, if we wanted to make a particular antenna, there was a tool in the toolbox for that. I initially joined Evolv to be the “metamaterial specialist.” But I wanted to go beyond that because I was always driven by that horse analogy—to distill the most critical problems we are faced with in the digital threshold down to their simplest form and solve for that.

My path at Evolv expanded from metamaterials, to millimeter wave imaging, to reconstruction techniques within imaging—how do we consume and analyze reams of radar data, for example, to create a semblance of a person and the guns that a person might be carrying? From there, my focus quickly moved to the world of automated threat detection and computer vision. While much of my focus is now on algorithms, sensors, and their interface, as well as machine learning, I never stray too far from electromagnetics.

Mike: Venue and facility thresholds are the spaces where someone goes from being an outsider, an unknown, to a person who’s either a trusted employee, or a welcomed fan or patron. From your perspective, what are the core technical challenges that you’re drawn to in this threshold area? What are the real problems that have to be solved there?

Alec: I’m very interested in the role of the guard at the threshold. They’re often the first person that anybody meets when entering a venue. Not only are the guards responsible for spotting a gun or a bomb but they’re often asked general information questions. They suffer fatigue just like anybody else. It’s easy to blame them for long lines or missed threats. I want to make the process more synergistic with the guard. How do we make it easier for them to quickly and unobtrusively scan for, or monitor for, a threat? And all while reducing false alarms. If you lower the false alarm rate, guards are less stressed because they’re chasing fewer phantoms. And visitors are less stressed because fewer are getting stopped.

Mike: Why are there so many false alarms?

Alec: Unlike the electronic articles surveillance systems that most retailers use, we don’t have control over the shape, size, or materials of the things that need to be stopped from crossing the threshold. The possible space of threats is gigantic and it’s inevitable that in trying to protect against all of these possible threats, overlaps with some common items that people might carry will occur, creating a false alarm.

Mike: How do these overlaps occur?

Alec: The signature we look for on certain threats can be very similar to the signature on something quite benign. For example, the steel barrel of a rifle can look very similar to the steel pole of an umbrella. Since we want to catch all possible rifles while trying to let through all possible umbrellas, there’s going to be some overlap. You’re going to stop some people with umbrellas, to make sure you’re not letting through any rifles.

Compounding this, the materials used in threats can be similar to those used in everyday items; a similar amount of steel and a similar shape can show up in a gun as well as inside your laptop. At the same time, the venues and their customers are incredibly varied and very fractured. They don’t all have the same types of people coming through, they’re not all carrying the same type of “clutter,” such as bags, mobile phones or thermoses. The person coming to work at an office building is carrying something very different than the person entering a sports stadium. And each has a very different expectation of being stopped and searched based on the type of venue.

Mike: Drawing on your roots, how do you distill this into a solvable math problem? What is “the shape of this horse?”

Alec: We’ve moved well past the “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” approach of traditional metal detectors that…detect metal. If we open up parameters, we can then consider not just how much metal, but what kind of metal? What shape is it? The extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic waves at the lower end of the spectrum interact with metal objects and reveal what looks like just a blob to the untrained eye. But that blob still has color and shape. These two dimensions end up being immensely important to algorithms for separating consumer electronics from firearms.

And yes, this definitely harkens back to identifying the simplest possible model that can extract usable information from a very, very complex problem. How do we represent analog signals alongside digital data in the same rich way, in the right formats and with enough precision, so that they can be analyzed? In this case, the complex problem is the interaction between the system and all the possible combinations of metal objects that somebody could be carrying.

When someone walks through the Evolv system, we collect over half a million measurements across all of the different sensors and frequencies. How do we boil this vast amount of data down to actionable, real-time intelligence that the security guard can use to detect threats, make a visitor feel welcome, and not create false positives? We use a physics model called magnetic polarizability tensors (MPTs) that synthesize these half a million data points and dimensional data streams we’re constantly collecting, and represent them in six physically intuitive and computationally useful numbers. We can then teach a computer what these six numbers represent by giving it lots of examples. The computer can start drawing relationships between threats of interest and the clutter items that people carry. The guard can then use this “well-digested data” to have a clear profile of the person walking through the system.

Mike: Many solutions to problems work great in the lab, but not in the real world, where everything is dynamic and varied. How do you solve for the commercial environment?

Alec: It’s true, venues come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and infrastructures. But a commercial product needs to work in all of these environments, without exception. If we only focus on the cool things that we can do in a lab, we actually miss some of the more fun challenges of making something work in the real world.

For a security system to work, assuming it’s comprised of sensors and algorithms, the sensors need to be able to listen to their environment and adapt to temperature, to nearby metal or nearby electronics emitting in similar spectrums. Successful products actually build an algorithm that’s smart enough to listen to the environment and continuously adapt. Sensors and algorithms have to constantly verify their assumptions and be able to dynamically change in real time.

Using the Evolv system as an example, we made it sensitive to one part in 10,000 of our signal strength. When a system is that sensitive, it means anything that blows it around or moves sensors in the middle of the scan is going to present some interesting challenges. You run into this in wall scanning or synthetic aperture radar in drones, where you need to always know where your sensor is located, relative to whatever you’re imaging. It’s an incredibly difficult problem.

Mike: And then, of course, these sensors and algorithms generate a flood of data and the analytics needed to synthesize it, to make sense of flows, spot patterns, etc. Do you see any interesting technical challenges there?

Alec: As I said earlier, the goal is presenting that data from sensors and algorithms in an integrated, “well-digested” way to deliver something actionable in real time. Once the data is collected and stored, it needs to be analyzed for this actionable information, which is where machine learning takes over to look for patterns.

Additionally, not all sensors are built the same, or talk to each other very easily. You then need to create an orchestration layer to coordinate all of these different sensor streams in real time, and make sure they’re processed, that the sensors all turn on together, that they’re all collecting together, that none have failed.

Mike: Given your path to date from those early math problem-solving sessions, what do you hope will be the impact of your work?

Alec: I want to synthesize the actions that need to happen at the digital threshold down to a visitor experience that’s as unobtrusive and ubiquitous as it is at any store. My goal is to have sensors and scanning everywhere, but they are just part of the daily fabric keeping people safe while they do their ordinary things

Mike: That’s a goal we all hope for. Thank you, Alec.