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 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:
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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.
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.
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.
Digital Threshold Live Episode 4 Blog – Why Technology Convergence in the Digital Threshold Matters
The continued acceleration of the digital transformation has unleashed seemingly limitless possibilities for technological applications, from the widespread global standpoint all the way down to the personal level. The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) presents incredible opportunities in many arenas, including the practical application of physical security.
Anil Chitkara, Evolv Technology Co-founder and host of Digital Threshold Live, was joined by Mahesh Saptharishi during episode No. 4 to discuss the technological possibilities at the intersection of sensors and AI. Saptharishi is the CTO of Motorola Solutions and leads innovation of mission-critical communications, as well as video and command center software.
Saptharishi provided a detailed and thorough perspective on the synergies of machine learning, AI, big data and analytics and how each plays a necessary part in the digital threshold and the creation of state-of-the-art physical security systems.
“Machine learning are the core algorithmic capabilities that power AI,” Saptharishi said. 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.”
Episode 4 Highlights and Provides Insights on the Security Threshold
Saptharishi explained that AI has come a long way in the past 10 years as computing power and speed have taken major strides – in large part due to the evolution of gaming GPUs.
“I think storage becoming cheaper, network bandwidth becoming cheaper, the ability to collect data becoming more practical – that acted as a fuel that powered all these algorithms to develop further and actually reach their performance potential and become practical through the processor technology that has come out,“ Saptharishi said.
This has been instrumental in AI development. One such real world application is AI understanding audio and speech patterns, as well as analyzing video. Utilizing improved GPU technology, these computations can now be done in real time. What once was done with multiple computers can now be done from your phone.
Chitkara asked about the human impacts of AI and whether this technology is replacing people or helping them.
To a degree, AI can replace or augment existing jobs done by humans.
“But, that said, humans are not static entities in terms of how we apply our intelligence,” Saptharishi said. When AI replaces certain tasks, people can focus on other areas where AI does not apply presently or perhaps cannot perform in the same way a human would.
For example, AI can assist law enforcement by helping search for people on video or by calling the attention of the officer to a particular situation that would require human judgement on whether or not intervention is applicable.
Saptharishi also explained the process of developing AI for particular applications. It starts by identifying the human factor opportunities. By shadowing individuals as they progress through their normal tasks, the development team can determine tasks that can be automated or assisted through technology.
This can greatly increase the productivity of the individual. With the automation of sensory actions, people can do things earlier, faster and also allow for more response time to particular situations, as technology has assisted in collecting information in an expedited manner.
In terms of security and technology, Saptharishi noted some key trends that have emerged. One trend is the combination of sensing modalities to create more powerful solutions. Other trends are the increased utilization of cloud connectivity and the integration of public safety, private security and enterprise security.
Chitkara and Saptharishi also discussed the security threshold and the factors that make AI successful for this application.
“Along with this notion that you need a high throughput solution, the threshold cannot become a bottleneck,” Saptharishi said.
The technology threshold needs to be as seamless as possible and not become an overwhelming burden to the flow of people. Secondly, the threshold needs to identify a person along with the right context. Is this person permitted to enter? Along with that identity permission, is this person bringing along something that is not permitted, such as a weapon or an illness?
“The days of somebody sitting in front of a security operations center, watching a video wall, hoping that they can detect something that is potentially suspicious or requires attention – I think those days are starting to reduce,” Saptharishi said.
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Harris Poll Shows Physical Security is Crucial to Getting Kids Back in School
By: Anil Chitkara, Evolv Technology Co-founder
Parents are equally concerned about mass shootings and COVID; the majority want weapons screening in place.
While effectively dealing with COVID-19 is top-of-mind for facilities managers as they work toward getting students back to school full-time, a recent Harris Poll we commissioned indicates there’s significant concern over violence and crime to be overcome as well. And in the COVID era, traditional screening methods that create lines and crowding will no longer be acceptable as a mitigation measure.
For the poll, more than 700 parents of K-12 school-aged children were surveyed in Sept. and Oct. 2020. It found 87% of the parents were either very or somewhat concerned about their kids contacting COVID upon returning to school. But concern over their physical security was a close second, at 81%. Although parents in urban areas were more likely to be somewhat or very concerned than their suburban counterparts, over half of suburban parents are concerned about the physical security of their children, 74% vs. 54%, respectively.
Eight out of ten parents are concerned about the physical security of their school age children.
COVID measures yes, but physical security, too
It’s a similar story when looking at COVID-19 prevention protocols and measures to ensure physical safety.
Having schools follow federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols is important to parents feeling safe about their kids. More than 90% of parents say it’s important for schools to ensure frequent handwashing and sanitizing, increased cleaning, mask wearing, social distancing and temperature screening (see Figure 1).
While that is certainly understandable, what may be surprising is that parents are nearly as concerned over physical security measures intended to keep students safe. More than 9 in 10 parents said it was somewhat or very important that each of the following measures be in place:
- Locked doors and visitors showing ID: 92%
- Presence of law enforcement: 92%
- All classrooms have door locks: 91%
- Metal detector for screening: 91%
Over 90% of parents say it is important to have a metal detector to screen for weapons coming into schools.
Part of the reason for concern over physical security measures is a fear of violence in public spaces. Sadly, school safety has been an issue for decades now. But concern seems to be growing, as the poll found 68% of parents think the risk is higher now than a year ago. Perhaps even more concerning, more than a third (31%) say going out in public is “mostly” or “very” unsafe.
Almost 90% of parents are concerned about a mass shooting in schools, matching the same level of concern about COVID.
In fact, parents are just as concerned over the risk of various sorts of physical violence as they are of COVID. Indeed, 88% of parents are somewhat or very concerned about COVID, the exact same number as for mass shootings. The numbers are similar for other forms of threats:
- Protest-related civil unrest/violence: 86%
- Street crime: 83%
- Terrorism: 76%
COVID-related issues with metal detectors
So, it’s clear schools will have to take steps to assuage parents’ concerns over various physical threats. But the poll makes clear the pandemic is making that more challenging.
Parents now see issues with traditional metal detector screening. More than three quarters of parents are concerned that screening can create long lines and requires a student’s belongings to be touched by a security guard (see Figure 2). Fewer but still significant numbers of parents cite issues such as the possibility for human error, creating crowds that violate social distancing guidelines, and the need for physical pat-downs and searches.
The poll makes clear any schools using traditional metal detector screening are in for some backlash from parents. In the COVID era, at least half of parents are not willing to accept many of the problems associated with traditional metal detectors, including:
- Crowds that violate social distancing guidelines
- Use of outdated technology
- False positives
- Slow or inefficient processes
- Physical pat down searches
Three out of four parents are concerned that security screening creates lines, and two thirds of them would not join a line that lacked social distancing.
Here’s another stat from the poll that I found fairly astounding: When parents were asked what they would do if they saw a security line in which people were not socially distancing, nearly two-thirds (65%) said they would not join the line. This inclination was far more pronounced in urban (73%) and suburban (64%) areas than rural (43%).
A touchless screening experience
I discussed this issue, along with many others, in a webinar with Erica Parker, Managing Director at The Harris Poll. “When you think about the intersection of COVID and metal detector screening, and the fact that it can create long security lines, [parents are] not interested in that,” she 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 parents (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 screener; there’s no need to empty them out. The systems are reliable enough that there are far fewer false positives – meaning mistaking a harmless item for a weapon – which means there’s 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 powerful sensors to screen up to 3,600 people per hour, about 10 times faster than legacy metal detectors.
New back to school requirements
The Harris Poll makes clear that while COVID-19 is a top concern for parents of K-12 students, their physical safety is a close second. But given the COVID requirements for social distancing, it’s equally clear that we need to investigate new ways to keep kids safe and secure.
Parents will appreciate schools that implement a touchless approach, as 85% of them agree that knowing everyone is screened upon entering a school building makes them more comfortable. And more than three quarters (78%) 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 safely welcome kids back to school. To learn more, visit Evolv.
AI’s Role in the New-World Security Paradigm
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.