The Rise of the Digital Threshold
By Peter George, CEO, Evolv Technology
The New Normal
Throughout this global pandemic period I’ve had many conversations with leaders responsible for people screening at live sports and entertainment venues, workplaces, schools, houses of worship, and outdoor theme parks across America. We’ve all felt a pandemic anxiety. Along with our heroic first responders, few feel it more acutely than these men and women responsible for helping people safely gather in a time when the act of gathering itself has become a mortal threat. Their entire world was shut down and is now in the process of reformatting and rebooting.
Most of the security leaders I am talking with are struggling with how to reopen safely, attract visitors, and stay open indefinitely. One thing I know for sure: there will be no going back to the old screening procedures. Why? Because three waves of change are combining to crest and crash down on the thresholds of their venues at the same time. The future of people screening will be quite different indeed, but it will be much, much better—at least for those who learn to adapt.
So, what are these three waves of change? They are the Normalization of Pandemics, Armed Anxiety, and the Digital Transformation of Physical Security. Let’s look at each in detail.
Wave 1: Normalization of Pandemics
Pandemic viruses turn unwitting visitors into weapons. COVID-19 has weaponized people in a way never seen before. Everyone now knows that packed crowds and human contact multiply the danger. Visitors and employees are looking at every venue and workplace with new eyes and formulating an internal risk score based on what they see. They are highly sensitized and are looking for evidence that the operators “get it” and have taken action. They don’t always know what they should expect, but they absolutely will expect security screening to be visibly different. COVID-19 has changed the risk profile of gatherings forever. A pandemic-aware security posture is the new normal.
Traditional high-touch entry screening is obsolete. Helping visitors feel safe in the new environment while delivering a financially sustainable entry throughput is just not possible with old metal detectors, manual bag inspections, and the resulting crowds. Along with new regulations and mandated protocols that venues must abide by, visitors and employees now also want to see a very orderly, safe, and socially-distanced people flow. A touchless visitor experience is part of the new normal.
A pandemic-aware security posture is not some passing fad. There have been six serious pandemics in just the last two decades: SARS, MERS, avian flu, swine flu, Ebola, and now COVID-19. Will there be more? Absolutely. Every physical security team must now develop the ability to adapt to future pandemics that are certainly on the way. Ongoing pandemic readiness is part of the new normal.
Evolv Technology customers, such as Six Flags and Hersheypark, have adapted to the pandemic by rolling out a new comprehensive health and safety plan for reopening their amusement parks. In the case of Six Flags, they’ve added thermal imaging for identifying guests with elevated body temperature and Evolv’s touchless security screening as part of their social-distancing procedures. We believe this is the beginning of a new trend of multi-threat screening that is changing venues and guest experiences forever.
Wave 2: Armed Anxiety
Research shows that there are as many as 393 million privately owned guns in circulation in the United States. The recent pandemic has spurred a new surge in gun purchases. More guns were sold in the first eight months of 2020 than were sold in all of last year. While most crime has significantly declined during the pandemic, shootings and killings remain at pre-pandemic levels.
Soon after pandemic lockdown orders started to lift, there was a venue-targeted active shooting incident in Arizona, and other active shooter incidents in Kansas and Texas. In 2020 the U.S. is on track to have an all-time record year for mass shootings, having reached the 2019 total of 417 on September 2, with four months still left to go.
The fact that shooting incidents persist amid the pandemic is unsurprising when we consider the historic levels of depression and anxiety that people are experiencing right now. The CDC reports that 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse during the pandemic—with the prevalence of anxiety being three times higher and depression four times higher than the same period last year.
The combination of an unprecedented number of weapons and unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression creates an unprecedented danger. We are living in an era of armed anxiety. Even though people are not gathering at scale today, that will change someday soon. Any gathering or workplace could be the next target. Any employee or visitor could suddenly erupt into the next violent threat. It could happen anywhere at any time.
Wave 3: The Digital Transformation of Physical Security
Outside the physical security world, businesses in every industry are unlocking efficiency and value by digitizing old manual and analog processes. They are re-imagining their organizations and operations in a future defined by software, data, sensors, mobility, networks, machine learning, automation, and analytics. It isn’t change for the sake of change; it’s change to allow the business to perform better in the modern world and be ready to respond more quickly to change in the future.
Anheuser-Busch InBev is using machine learning to help bars create more accurate orders, resulting in better customer satisfaction. Walmart is using shelf-scanning robots to optimize inventory performance. Black & Decker is using networked sensors to track the movement of materials in factories to increase labor efficiency and quality.
Is digital transformation worth the effort? Yes, with the greatest rewards going to those who start early and do it right. Across all industries, digital leaders clearly outperform the laggards in their industry in both growth and profitability according to recent Bain & Company research:
After comparing financial results for five categories of companies based on their degree of digital maturity, Bain found that revenues for the digital leaders grew 14 percent over the past three years, more than doubling the performance of the digital laggards in their industries. Profitability followed a similar pattern—83 percent of the leaders increased margins over that period while less than half of the industry laggards did so.
Unfortunately, physical security stands out as a laggard in digital transformation—especially when compared to the modern cybersecurity best practices that I am used to. Consider the findings of Accenture and Microsoft in their recent survey of physical security leaders:
“We found that although security leaders see the opportunity to enhance risk management with digital capabilities, the industry is at various levels of maturity, and at worst is a decade behind. Respondents identified “reactive threat management” and “intuition-led decision-making based on subjectivity” as the two leading challenges facing physical security operations today. These challenges—operating reactively and improving decision-making—make it difficult to be proactive. This puts your people, brand and reputation at risk.”
It’s not surprising that physical security managers are worried about “reactive threat management” and “intuition-led decisions” when their security screening technology hasn’t fundamentally changed since the 1920s and is completely devoid of digital data. Old analog metal detectors, hand wands, and manual bag inspections are artifacts of a pre-digital age. Weapons screening sometimes feels like the land that time forgot.
Today’s lack of modern technology in physical security operations has created an undue reliance on security staff. The security officers are burdened with an ever-growing list of tasks: watch out for bad behavior, answer guest’s questions, handle minor incidents, and clean up the physical space, in addition to the core screening role of manually checking everybody entering for prohibited items. There are simply too many things for any one security guard to manage.
Things could not be more different in the cybersecurity part of the business. Because cybersecurity was born inherently digital, cybersecurity professionals are immersed in oceans of digital data and refined pattern recognition based on cutting edge artificial intelligence. They have deep and meaningful analytics and real-time threat intelligence that help them adapt to new threats, in real time, and continuously tighten their perimeter.
The Rise of the Digital Threshold
How long will it be until we close the gap between the digital haves in cyber and the digital have-nots in physical security? It’s already happening. A new vision and technology architecture are emerging. We call this vision the Digital Threshold. The Digital Threshold vision applies the proven patterns of digital transformation and cybersecurity to everything that happens in the space people cross as they enter and exit modern venues and facilities.
Within the Digital Threshold vision, venues and facilities can intelligently use data to create a frictionless experience for guests and employees. The result is an entry process that enhances the overall experience instead of diminishing it as it so often does today.
Making weapons screening faster and more precise is part of the Digital Threshold vision, but it’s just the beginning. What if the entry experience could also seamlessly integrate digital health screening and health credential processing into the screening process? What if electronic ticketing, VIP identification, and BOLO alerts could also be part of the same seamless flow? And what if the Digital Threshold generated useful analytics that enable data-driven decisions about system adjustments and people flows? All of this is part of the Digital Threshold vision that not only addresses the current environment, but also creates the ability to adapt and flex to handle future needs as necessary.
The Digital Threshold as a Technology Architecture
The Digital Threshold is more than just a vision for frictionless entry experiences—it’s a digital technology architecture of components that work together to realize the vision. These components include Sensors, Analytics, and Actions, all on top of the AI Platform.
In the Digital Threshold vision, sensors work together to spot multiple threats and to supply useful insights about visitors. Each sensor fills in a different part of the picture. Data from magnetic field sensors make it possible to see the difference between a gun and a smartphone. Thermal imaging cameras provide the raw data that makes it possible to spot people with elevated body temperature—a sign of potential infection. Visible light cameras could gather the imagery needed to count visitors, estimate visitor demographics, and identify visitors as employees, VIP season pass holders, or known threats. Microphones, biometric and credential readers, and other types of sensors could supply added insights about who and what is coming through the Digital Threshold.
As threats evolve and new sensors emerge, the Digital Threshold sensor array can expand as needed. Rather than sending visitors through an obstacle course of standalone technologies, the Digital Threshold allows venues to touchlessly screen for multiple threats in a single concept of operation (CONOP).
AI Software Platform
Digital Threshold sensors produce a flood of raw digital data that must be stored, organized, and turned into meaningful information. That’s where the AI software platform comes in. It’s the brains of the Digital Threshold vision.
AI uses machine learning to spot complex patterns in data. More data and more kinds of data make machine learning models more precise over time. Having multiple digital sensors makes it possible to bring everything together in a way that increases situational awareness.
The core value of the Digital Threshold vision is embodied in software. The hardware is almost incidental and will someday come in many different forms. Instead of installing new hardware to improve accuracy, the machine learning models could be upgraded just like the software on smartphones. This completely changes the game of system upgrades. As the Digital Threshold gets smarter over time, rolling out new capabilities becomes a matter of clicks, not forklifts.
At Evolv, we call our AI software platform the Evolv Cortex AI™. From the beginning we designed Cortex AI to be upgradable and extensible across a wide variety of threats. It’s the brain of all our products and an early expression of the Digital Threshold vision.
When the AI software platform identifies a problem, imagine if the Digital Threshold action flow engine could spring into action to orchestrate the appropriate response. It’s about much more than beeps and alarms. Imagine if visitors could see a temporary “Slow Down” message when sensors detect crowding that violates social distancing requirements. If a potential weapon is spotted, the visitor might be visually directed to a weapon screening resolution station on the left, while a person with elevated body temperature could be directed to a health screening station on the right. Season ticket holders might be greeted with a “Welcome Back!” display.
Whatever the situation, the Digital Threshold could guide visitors and guard staff with a suitable programmed response. The key word is programmed. Because it would be a software workflow engine, actions could be changed and customized over time without a hardware upgrade. It’s software-defined physical security that could prove to be just as revolutionary as software-defined networking.
Because the Digital Threshold feeds on digital data, it could become possible to generate an ever-growing number of useful analytics to help plan and execute a frictionless experience. For example, based on the type of event, day of the week, forecast weather, and current tour of a specific performer, a Digital Threshold-equipped venue manager could potentially answer questions like the following:
- What time did the arrival rate peak before last week’s event?
- What is the mix of families and demographics of individuals coming through different entrances?
- Is entrance throughput consistent with our social distancing guidelines?
- Which doors seem to attract the most VIPs?
- What are the demographic characteristics of our visitors by entrance?
- What is the alarm rate at each entrance?
- What are the top threats detected at each entrance?
Once the data is in an analytics platform, there is almost no end to the questions we might answer. Remember the Accenture and Microsoft research finding that physical security managers were worried about “intuition-led decisions?” Having powerful analytics could be a huge step down the path to data-driven decision-making. These analytic insights not only keep people safely moving based on their risk profile but also allow for venues to monetize the visitor experience more effectively.
Toward Agile Readiness
These four components of the Digital Threshold come together to transform the screening process to both block today’s known threats and quickly adapt to future threats as they emerge. I call this the state of “Agile Readiness.” Modern venues with agile readiness can quickly flex and surge into whatever comes next.
While it is impossible to specifically predict every new threat, digital technology makes it possible to reduce the window of exposure and minimize disruption. It’s about generating, harnessing, and trusting data to make the most important decisions about safety instantaneously. It’s about maintaining a security posture that engenders trust and confidence among employees and visitors. It’s security that is obvious but low-profile, strong but not invasive, fast but not cumbersome. That’s what the Digital Threshold vision could deliver, creating Agile Readiness.
Software Eats the World of Physical Security
Web pioneer Marc Andreessen has famously claimed that “software is eating the world” and I completely agree with him. The most interesting thing about cars these days is the software that makes them more efficient and safer. The most interesting thing about a watch these days is the software that makes it a fitness and health tracker and an extension of my phone rather than just a timepiece. The hardware of modern technology is still important, but more often only as a vessel for the innovative software it contains.
At Evolv, we are bringing the “software eats the world” phenomenon to security screening, and it’s already creating incredible value for our customers. Our early implementation of the Digital Threshold vision is successfully devouring the old security screening technologies, and it shows no signs of slowing down. It’s also empowering security teams to do an even better job of keeping people safe while optimizing financial and staff resources.
The software platform supplies the brain and connective tissue to integrate capabilities of new emerging technologies that transform the new visitor or fan experience. It becomes the security platform to seamlessly integrate biometrics, video analytics, crowd intelligence, health posture data, electronic ticketing, and on-demand liability wavers to allow for a frictionless visitor, employee, and fan experience in a post COVID-19 world.
We have made substantial progress in realizing the Digital Threshold vision in the Evolv product line. Customers are telling us we have it right, but in many ways, we are just getting started. There’s a lot of room left to apply artificial intelligence to physical security, including new types of sensors to consider and analytics to create. It’s an extremely exciting time.
Addressing the realities of pandemics and armed anxiety while also developing the potential of digital transformation will require a new approach. We must reimagine these challenges and opportunities in a whole new light, unbound by legacy technologies or preconceived, outdated ideas. Armies of people using old ways of working simply cannot keep the public safe. The old solutions don’t scale wide enough or deep enough to address these threats everywhere they can appear. Much like we’ve seen in other industries, technology can fundamentally bend the curve back in our favor and return peace of mind. And peace of mind is what we all want and deserve, now more than ever.
One Chance to Get it Right
I believe that the realization of the Digital Threshold vision is inevitable, and the time to get started is now. I also believe that the transition will create winners and losers. Facilities that embrace and adapt to the digital future will earn lasting trust and long-term viability and loyalty. Facilities that are slow to adapt may never recover from the resulting loss of business and trust.
If you’d like to join us on the journey toward the Digital Threshold, consider attending our new Digital Threshold Live webcast series. We’ll be speaking with leading experts to explore the business drivers, technologies, and human dimensions of the Digital Threshold vision. The first episode airs October 1.
Details are below. Register today.
A Look at Touchless Security Screening
New security screening requirements in a post-pandemic world
Pre-pandemic, venue screening procedures relied on metal detectors, hand wands, and invasive bag inspections. While it was evident those methods were inefficient, frustrating and intrusive, in the pandemic-sensitive world, they are far too slow and manual and will result in unsafe crowding and dangerous physical contact.
The days of putting our phones and bags in containers handled by security guards are over
At Evolv, we are solving the security screening problems of today with the most innovative technology and thinking, making it possible for venues of all kinds to keep visitors and employees safe from concealed weapons and pandemic health threats.
In the wake of COVID-19, a fundamentally new approach to security screening is necessary for venues to safely reopen. To help people visualize what this screening looks like, we’ve produced a new video highlighting Evolv Express™ in action at several customer locations.
It’s security screening that is touchless, respectful and efficient.
Interview: Evolv powers Six Flags’ new touch-less way to go through theme park security
Imagine going through theme park security without having to open all your bags and allowing a security guard to look through your things, or not even having to put your bags into an x-ray machine. That may be the case soon at some Six Flags parks.
As attractions begin reopening after their coronavirus closures, theme parks are reevaluating the security screenings their guests go through in light of social distancing measures, and Anil Chitkara’s company, Evolv Technology, has introduced an innovative touch-free system Six Flags recently featured in a video highlighting their parks’ new safety procedures.
Ever since 9/11, theme parks have implemented various types of security screenings to ensure that guests don’t enter with weapons or other prohibited items. The Walt Disney World and Disneyland resorts use a combination of manual bag inspections and walk-through metal detectors, while Universal resorts employ automated bag-screening machines and walk-through metal detectors. However, in announcing their reopening plans, Six Flags has released the following video depicting the use of the Evolv Express security system in their parks, which permits guests and their belongings to be inspected while walking through without removing or opening their bags at all:
The new bag screening system depicted in Six Flags’ video comes from Evolv Technology, which was co-founded by Anil Chitkara. Six Flags will only confirm that the chain has ordered 37 Evolv Express units, but is not sharing publicly at this time at which parks (in addition to Frontier City) they’ll be used at, or how many units per park. Chitkara himself was unable to confirm or provide any specific details about his company’s involvement with Six Flags (a standard contractual limitation in the security industry). However, he did provide us this exclusive interview about how his team is helping to keep guests both safe and happy in the age of COVID-19. (Note: this interview has been edited for space and clarity.)
How did Evolv Technologies get started?
We started the company about seven years ago, myself and my co-founder, named Mike Ellenbogen. Mike has been in the physical security industry for 20 years after Pan Am 103 … My background is more sort of business and technology. And we’d known each other for 15 years at that point.
I had sold the company I was at, Mike sold the company that he was at, and we were trying to figure out what to do next. There were two pieces of motivation: the Boston Marathon bombing, and 9/11. In the case of 9/11, my college roommate and good friend was in the north tower; had just gotten married, had a kid and unfortunately, he was part of Cantor Fitzgerald [headquarters], which was tragic.
In the case of the marathon, my wife is a marathoner. She had run that marathon. I had my three young kids at the finish line. She finished about 45 minutes before the first bomb went off, got in the car and came home … and then all of the news happened. A good friend of ours was there, actually, he got hit with the second bomb and has fragmentation.
It really caused me to think about, what do I want to do next? And how do I want to spend the next 10 to 20 years? I had done a lot with technology to solve business problems. Mike had done a lot to bring innovative technology to physical security. And we went out and talked to lots of people about how they were trying to keep their venue safe.
I thought about my kids. I don’t want them to have to live a life where it is airport-style screening everywhere they go. I want them to be able to live as freely as possible, but also as safely as possible. And that was my personal motivation around starting a company.
Where is your technology currently in use?
At the end of 2017, we started deploying technology, so it’s been deployed and screening people since the end of 2017. We’ve screened well over 50 million people since it’s been deployed; it’s probably closer to 60 million people now. And our customers have used the technology to find thousands of weapons. The types of places where it’s deployed are largely commercial venues, so those have been performing arts centers, sporting stadiums, museums, and tourist locations. They’ve largely been places where they hadn’t used walk-through metal detectors up to that point; they’d been trying them, but they just weren’t doing the trick. They basically were too invasive relative to the visitors that were coming in.
About a year ago, we launched the second product, which is the Evolv Express product [which is what is featured in Six Flags’ video]. We’ve screened millions of people with that product. There were two very large events we did last fall screening with Express. One of them was a week long conference in San Francisco where we screened about 500,000 people, and then there was a second conference we did a month later where we screened about 400,000 people. So there’s been some very large-scale, high volume deployments that have been used the system. There are other applications where people are screening it using it for visitors on a daily basis.
We haven’t yet used it in a theme park environment. We’ve used it in large-scale events, and we’ve used them in some sporting events in some performing arts and entertainment events. But not a theme park event up to now.
What’s the hourly guest capacity and staffing requirement of the Evolv Express?
One unit of Express has two lanes. Each of those lanes could do 1,800 guests an hour, or 3,600 for that combined system. That compares to a walk through metal detector where they’re doing “take things out, check the body, check the bags,” those tend to be about 250 to 300, maybe 350 people per hour. So this is about 10 times the speed of a traditional approach.
If we look at the walk-through metal detector, let’s say you need 10 units. They tend to have two and a half people per unit; they have a front and a back and a supervisor. For us, you tend to have between four and six people per unit, so the staffing is significantly reduced.
The turnover in the security guard industry in the U.S. is 300% or three times a year, the entire industry. Therefore, training and getting skilled guards is a challenge, so we have automated some of the key tasks [and] provided a level of automation that assists the guard, so that they can be very targeted in their search.
What are the advantages to Evolv Express over traditional bag screening methods in a COVID-19 reopening environment?
Ninety days ago, we used to talk about 3,600 people an hour coming through; today, we talk about a touchless contact screening process. If I’m going through those 42-inch-wide lanes, without taking anything off and going right through and the alarm rate is extremely low, then I keep going; thousands of people are going through never being touched by a security guard. One benefit is the proximity of guard-to-visitor is lower, because they walk right through. A second benefit is the speed enables people to go through quickly without lines building up, so are eliminating visitor-to-visitor proximity as you’re waiting in line to go through security. And then anybody that’s looking at bags manually is touching every bag; people are trying to figure out how can I have less touch, but fundamentally, you’ve got to look in the bag when you’re doing a manual process.
How does Evolv Express improve the overall guest experience?
There’s so much work and effort that’s put in around the visitor experience, but then the security experience just grinds things to a halt. There is excitement, you get there, you want to get in, you want to participate or listen or enjoy the entertainment, and then grinding to a halt because I’ve got to stop, I’ve got to put my bag down, I’ve got to take everything out of my pockets. That’s we’re trying to fundamentally change: that visitor experience. That’s essentially one of the key principles of the technology we’ve developed.
Have there been studies demonstrating your technology’s detection rate compared to the more traditional methods?
We’ve done a number of studies with both government and commercial organizations, and a number of large organizations will do the testing themselves. They’ll do lab-based testing: we’ll take a system and run a bunch of threats through and a bunch of nuisance alarm items that they’ll read. And they’ll actually put threats on individuals and have them go through the system in operation. We’ve done that extensively; we can’t share specific customers or specific examples of what’s been done, but that’s been done a number of times in the U.S. and Europe. And what they had found is that the detection rate is a combination of the technology, plus the people operating it, plus the processing protocols … The breakdown oftentimes comes in the guards or the protocols relative to that overall system, so what’s been told to us is the effectiveness of the overall system has been much higher with our technology as part of an overall system than with the traditional technology.
How is the Evolv Express system priced?
We don’t publicly share actual pricing levels. We have a subscription model … a per month fee, not “buy it and you own it forever.” We include improvements, upgrades, service, and everything all combined into that one monthly price. So the pricing model is something we believe is pretty unique in the industry.
What is your current outlook as attractions reopen after the pandemic quarantine?
Everybody sort of hunkered down when COVID hit right. There was a lot of “how am I going to respond to this?” Over the last four weeks, we’ve had a significant amount of inquiries from organizations as they plan their reopening. And many of these organizations have used the “mag and bag,” (the walk through a metal detector and bag) approach in the past and they just don’t believe that’s the right way to go to do it going forward. What’s changed is they’re trying to balance the public health threat and the public safety threat, and do something that considers both of those.
It’s going to be different going forward. It needs to be lower touch, it needs to be cognizant of the public health risks, as well as the public safety risks. And so they’re looking to our technology to be able to help them enable that.
For more information on Evolv, visit evolvtechnology.com.
Evolv Express™ vs. the Traditional Metal Detector
By: Julie Zomar, Director of Marketing, Evolv Technology
In today’s era of viral violence, we should no longer be screening with yesterday’s technology. Manual inspections, hand wands and traditional metal detectors are slow, invasive, inefficient, involve too many nuisance alarms and create long lines, forcing venues to choose between safety and the visitor experience.
Did you know, some venues are actually opting not to implement any security at all because they’d rather not make the trade-off between safety and visitor experience? This can’t be the choice you make.
Deploying screening technology in your venue is no longer something you and your team should dread or delay. With Evolv Express™, the first-of-its-kind free-flow weapons-detection system, visitors and employees walk through while simultaneously being screened for potential threats.
Through the power of AI, Express instantly differentiates threats from personal items such as keys, coins, belts and cell phones, making it easy for guards and frictionless for visitors. In fact, visitors no longer need to stop, empty pockets or remove bags. They simply walk right through at a natural pace one-at-a-time or in groups. It’s the fastest weapons-screening product on the market, screening 60 people every minute. That’s 3,600 people per hour – 10X faster than a traditional metal detector.
This two-lane system is approximately 11 feet wide and requires far fewer guards than traditional metal detectors to manage. In fact, some venues are seeing a 70% reduction in labor costs.
For those of you accustomed to traditional metal detectors, it’s going to be a positive shock…
- You no longer need a large footprint for security equipment
- Long, frustrating security screening lines will no longer form outside your venue
- Guards will now be able to conduct targeted searches using image-aided alarms
- And, your labor costs will decrease by up to 70%
Finally, venues can stop threats, while assuring a welcoming visitor and employee experience.
If at 800 people per hour, you need 50% less screening equipment, and 60% fewer guards, imagine what your coop would look like as your visitor throughput needs increase. Download our full infographic to see what screening 1200, 1600, 2400 and 3600 people per hour would look like with Evolv Express versus traditional metal detectors.
The Active Shooter Epidemic: One Major Preventive Measure Launching Today
By: Anil Chitkara, President & Co-Founder, Evolv Technology
Too many mass shootings.
Too many venues without security checkpoints.
Too few technology solutions identifying the individuals who require a closer look.
Too many conversations with security professionals and venue operators asking for something better.
At Evolv, we have had enough. The “new normal,” as some have called it, is unacceptable. We’ve dedicated ourselves to keeping people safe by using technology to stop active shooters. The safer world we envision should be something that everyone simply expects without having to think about it.
Six years ago, Mike Ellenbogen and I started Evolv Technology with a mission to save lives.
Prior to the founding of Evolv, we spent more than two years conducting research. We met with security professionals across the globe and developed a deep understanding of modern threats and what security professionals need to prevent mass casualty events. We visited university labs and small tech companies to understand the latest innovations in sensors, data synthesis, image reconstruction, machine learning, and design thinking. Then, leveraging our combined 40+ years of experience using technology to solve critical, complex problems, we started Evolv.
At Evolv, we set out to solve a very tough problem: how do you recognize that the vast majority of people pose no threat, while simultaneously identifying those few who may be a threat and require a closer look. It’s a simple problem statement, but a difficult question to answer.
Our First Product: Evolv Edge
We launched the Evolv Edge system in 2017, after about 3 ½ years of research and development. Evolv Edge is one of a kind. It’s the first product in the industry to screen people and their belongings at high speed without requiring them to stop or remove items from their pockets and bags. From a technology perspective, Edge’s combination of sensors, signal processing, detection algorithms, and user-centered design is like nothing else on the market. Gone are the white bowls for your keys, coins, wallets, belts and cell phones; gone is the need to stop and put your hands in the air. There is no need to place your bag on a table for a guard to search prior to walking through the Edge. With the Edge, you just walk through.
Since its launch, the Edge has screened more than 25 million people around the world, primarily at entertainment venues, sports stadiums, tourist locations, workplaces, hospitals, and houses of worship. In that time, the Edge has detected more than 5,000 weapons. Prior to selecting the Edge, many of these venues tried walk through metal detectors, but found the experience for their visitors to be too slow and cumbersome. These outdated pieces of equipment also resulted in long lines, creating a potentially new security target and concern.
Feedback on the Evolv Edge has been very positive. We’ve seen first-hand the reactions of visitors going through the system and guards operating it. The most common question we are asked is “Why don’t they have these everywhere?”
What We’ve Learned
As we deployed the Edge and spoke to thousands of security professionals and venue operators, we again asked how we could advance screening technology to make many more venues even safer, while continuing to deliver a positive visitor experience. These conversations were enlightening. We heard significant concern about several different scenarios:
- Workplace Violence Prevention:
One of the biggest areas of concern was the proliferation of workplace violence. People should not be concerned for their safety while at work. Many employers, however, are not willing to put a traditional checkpoint in place. They are looking for a system that screens people with little-to-no inconvenience.
- Event Screening:
Another scenario we heard was about screening large crowds for events. The shootings in Las Vegas, Gilroy and Jacksonville Landing highlight the need to screen large numbers of people at special events.
- Tourist Screening:
The third scenario we continued to hear was around screening at tourist locations. Many of these locations, whether an observation deck, museum, or landmark, carry their own unique complexities. Many visitors are carrying food, clothing, cameras, and a host of other personal items for a day’s outing. Often there are international visitors speaking a range of languages.
These three scenarios were just a few of the many that were highlighted.
In many cases, security teams had tried traditional checkpoints with walk through metal detectors and found them to be unsustainable solutions. Traditional screening created massive lines, frustrating visitors or employees, and resulted in an unacceptable overall experience. These stories, which we continue to hear on a daily basis, inspired the design for our newest product.
Introducing Evolv Express
We’re now launching our second product, Evolv Express™. Whereas the Edge screens individuals one-at-a-time as they pass through the system for venues who want a control point, Express screens large groups of people at a time with no stopping, no emptying of pockets or removing bags. After eighteen months of development, we’re now releasing Express, the fastest threat screening product on the market that ensures every individual and their belongings are screened as they pass through without even breaking stride. We have incorporated the latest high-speed sensors that move data in real time to a detection algorithm that renders a decision as people pass through; with Express, 60 people can be screened every minute, that’s 3,600 per hour. The system screened more than 250,000 individuals during our pilot testing this spring and summer. As with the Edge, Express detects those individuals who require a closer look, and automatically alerts guards and security personnel to confirm those individuals are not a threat.
How Express Works
Evolv Express combines the latest technologies and user-driven design principles to provide this high throughput, truly frictionless approach to screening thousands of people per hour. It all starts with the brains of our system, the Evolv Cortex AI Software Platform™. This is a machine learning-based AI system that uses data sets we have generated from the system to train the algorithm. The training is conducted on a methodical basis, starting with a designated threat set, such as firearms. A range of threats is scanned, and classifiers are developed, refined, tested, tuned, and hardened to detect the threat set. Similarly, a range of non-threatening items such as cell phones is scanned through the system. A similar approach is undertaken to create classifiers. As the range of threats and non-threats are analyzed by our development team, the algorithm is continually refined. Over time, as new threats emerge and data is collected, the algorithm will continue to be refined. This process is done in our labs in a controlled manner. Once we are confident in the performance of each new algorithm, it will be released and upgraded to Express systems operating at customer sites.
A key Express component is the sensors that collect data to drive the algorithm. These sensors were designed by Evolv to optimize the separation of the signals for both threat and non-threat items. After scanning millions of people with the Evolv Edge system, we had developed a tremendous body of knowledge regarding sensors as well as the typical items that are carried by visitors through our systems. This body of data informed the design for the Express sensor set.
We have also optimized the data flow through our system. For each individual screened, the Edge system moves nearly 1 million data points to the algorithm, with a resulting red light / green light decision as the person exits. For Express, this ultra-high speed data-processing engine has been further optimized to render a decision in less than one second from the time a person starts walking through.
A significant amount of time was spent on the Express user experience. The UX has a number of components: the industrial design of the system, the interaction with visitors being screened, the operator’s interaction with the system, and the people moving and setting up the system. Each of these elements has been carefully thought through and tested with the respective user group.
- Industrial Design:
The Edge was a significant step forward in designing a system that is welcoming to people passing through it. We have taken some of those key design elements and made improvements to streamline the look even further. Additionally, we recognize these systems need to visually fit into the environment, so we added the ability for users to add custom branding or signage on a key component of the system.
- Visitor Experience:
We widened the overall design to make it easier for people to pass through with minimal disruption.
- Operator Experience:
Our focus on the operator experience has resulted in a system that is easy to operate as thousands of people pass through each hour. There are a mix of audio and visual cues for the operator. If an individual alarms, there is a picture of the person alarming, with the alarm location clearly outlined for further evaluation.
- Ease of Deployment:
Finally, a key element of the system is the ability to move it around to enable screening at different locations. The system has built-in mobility capability, for easy breakdown, movement, and set-up. When the system is powered on, an automatic software calibration routine runs through diagnostics, resulting in the system being up and operational in two minutes.
We are starting a roadshow to preview the Express to security professionals around the U.S. Next week we will be unveiling at the ASIS GSX Security Show in Chicago. After that, we will be in major cities around the U.S. And, you will start to see the Express working at venues around the country keeping people safe.
We set out to solve a very tough problem: how do you recognize that the vast majority of people pose no threat, while simultaneously identifying those few who may be a threat and require a closer look; how do you improve public security without disrupting the public? Over the past 6 years we’ve dedicated our resources and our expertise to answering these questions.
We’re humbled to have the opportunity to ‘make our dent’ in the universe and couldn’t be more excited to launch Evolv Express.
Airport Security: When it Comes to Employees, Metal Detectors Are the Problem
By: Bill McAteer
The aviation security community has always been proactive and innovative with the introduction of new security technologies, policies and strategies. Whether its revamping screening processes for carry-on bags or drones for perimeter security, adoption rates for new technology aimed at thwarting threats has always been a consistent focus the aviation community. Yet there is one area of airport security that remains unsolved – insider employee threats.
While the vast majority of airport employees are not threats, out of the estimated 1 million employees working in airports nationwide, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the need to protect against the insider threat. Especially with the steady uptick in insider threat incidents in recent years, A few examples include a baggage handler for Hartsfield-Jackson that was sentenced for gun smuggling, nine Dallas airport employees that admitted they plotted to smuggle drugs, weapons and plastic explosives, and a Horizon Air worker who stole and flew a commercial aircraft over the Seattle area.
Employees and Passengers Are Not the Same
Unfortunately, the solution is not as simple as applying the passenger screening process to employees. While passengers plan to arrive hours before their flight to account for the expected airport security lines, it is unfair to expect the same scenario out of employees.
When shift changes occur, hundreds and in some cases, thousands of airport workers enter the airport at once. Forcing those individuals to undergo the slow-moving and single-file screening process that is required of passengers would inevitably prevent employees from getting to their posts at their scheduled start time, thus causing flight delays, which can negatively impact passenger satisfaction and airline finances.
Metal Detectors Are Part of the Problem
These differences in screening scenarios shine light on the severe limitations of using metal detectors in the screening process.
The technology in metal detectors is designed to detect only metal and is unable to differentiate between other everyday metallic items, such as cell phones or belt buckles. Because of this, individuals are asked to stop and divest of personal belongings, which inevitably creates delays and long lines. Further, when guards repeatedly find that the detectors’ alarms are due to those everyday items and not weapons, they become desensitized and inadvertently less effective in the screening process.
Despite this being the norm for passenger screening, this process cannot keep up with the demands of employee screening.
Revamping the Employee Screening Process
With these significant limitations and challenges in mind, consider looking to replace antiquated screening solutions with more advanced technologies that leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI), and utilize advanced scanners, or even biometric capabilities.
If you do choose to onboard new technologies, ensure they meet the following capabilities to best protect against insider threats and improve the employee screening process:
Because airport shift changes can include up to thousands of employees at once, it’s important that your next screening solution quickly and efficiently move individuals through without sacrificing security.
To do this, look for screening solutions that don’t require individuals to pause, pose, or divest of personal items. Technology that allows individuals to walk through with ease will best prevent bottlenecks, and ensure employees get to their stations on time.
Today’s threats extend far beyond the limits of metal, with bombs and other non-metallic weapons increasing in popularity every day.
To ensure modern threats do not go unnoticed, your next screening solution should be able to identify several types of weapons, as well as differentiate between a gun, toy, or cell phone. With advanced intelligent detection capabilities, security guards are better-informed of potential threats and can take quicker and more precise action to deter an attack to stay “left of bang.”
Implementing a rigid and predictable screening process can unfortunately create opportunities for people to use it against the venue that’s trying to stay protected.
The ability to deploy screening solutions anywhere at any time creates an element of surprise and significantly limits the insider threat. Airports should look for flexible solutions that are self-contained and easy to move so that security checkpoints can be deployed on a whim.
We can expect to see the insider threat problem proliferate across U.S. airports and beyond. To get ahead of this growing problem, consider reevaluating your employee screening process, educating yourself on the problem and identifying innovative solutions to address the ever-growing insider threat. An added benefit? Creating a no-hassle screening process for your employees can significantly impact job satisfaction and ultimately help with retaining employees.
The Mass Shooting Epidemic: Find the Needle, Leave the Straw
By Anil Chitkara, President, Evolv Technology, Inc.
I spent the last month traveling from East to West Coast of the U.S., meeting with security professionals and venue operators to discuss their perspectives on threats to their people and facilities. I met with people representing a wide range of venues including hospitals, casinos, entertainment venues, banks, office buildings, religious institutions, and professional sports teams. The discussions were illuminating.
The primary perceived threat is someone using a firearm to perpetrate a mass shooting. Given the prevalence of active shooters in the U.S., this concern is not surprising. There have been 2,040 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, according to Vox Gun Stats. The locations of these shootings are difficult to predict – they can happen anywhere. In the past 14 days alone, the news was filled with stories about the shootings at the Chabad of Poway in California, UNC Charlotte in North Carolina, and STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado.
The security community is well aware of the problem. Millions of dollars have been spent implementing “right of bang” detection solutions. Once the gunshots begin, what are the measures to minimize casualties, neutralize the threat, and tend to the injured? Automated door locks, bulletproof windows, and run/hide/fight drills are among the typical “right of bang” solutions. This week I got an email solicitation for a backpack with an NIJ Level III-A bulletproof protective panel. Nothing against the National Institute of Justice, but I don’t want to look for their certification when buying school supplies. The refrain I hear again and again is that there has to be a better solution.
We need to invest in “left of bang” solutions to prevent the bullets from flying in the first place. As I discussed this with security professionals, it was clear that the current solutions simply don’t work for most visitor-focused venues. Walk-through metal detectors are very good at detecting metal. They detect not only guns and knives, but belt buckles, keys, coins, and cell phones as well. Unfortunately, most venues are not at all interested detecting people’s phones and belt buckles. Metal detection of such small, innocuous nuisance items slows down the process and impedes both flow and visitor experience.
What I heard loud and clear was that the majority of venues do not want traditional checkpoints. No white bowls. No guards with latex gloves. No long lines. They recognize that the vast majority of people who are coming to their facilities are coming to work, play, pray, eat, sleep, or visit. They pose no threat to the venue or others inside. Security teams know there are only a select few who may pose a threat; these are the small number of visitors at whom venue operators want to take a “closer look.” And therein lies the dilemma: how do you treat the vast majority of visitors as the non-threatening people they are while pulling out those very few for additional scrutiny?
Much progress has been made in the world of sensors and software. As evidenced by our cell phones, sensors have become smaller, faster, better, and cheaper. Software has greatly improved to capture, move, and process massive amounts of data. Machine learning and artificial intelligence have allowed us to gain meaningful insights from data quickly and with relatively high precision. How can we leverage these technological advances to improve security?
The security professionals with whom I met are looking for security technology that allows people to easily go about their normal pace of life, while identifying those few individuals for a closer look. CCTV cameras can help with this approach but they are primarily focused as right of bang solutions. For the past three years, we’ve been working with organizations to deploy solutions that detect potential threats without impeding the flow of people entering a venue. In the past 18 months alone, ten million people have passed through our security systems; of these, a small fraction have been identified as carrying a concealed threat.
Tech’s Next Imperative: Physical Security
The following is an excerpt from a Forbes article penned by Evolv board member Alan Cohen. You can read the full article here.
The active shooter problem is one of the scariest and most intractable facets of public life. While mass killings represent but a fraction of total gun deaths, they tear apart the fabric of our open society — transforming entertainment venues, airports, houses of worship, office buildings, and schools into potentially instant war zones.
Why haven’t new methods or new technologies been driven to the forefront of protecting society and our “soft targets”?
Our safety technology must evolve.
In 1925, Gerhard Fischer was granted the first patent for a portable metal detector. For the most part, variants of metal detector technology have been the primary scanning security for venues and transit points worldwide for decades.
What metal detectors provide is a robust ability to find guns and knives at checkpoints (airports, government buildings, etc.) by comprehensively scanning every piece of metal, no matter how small or non-threatening.
Anyone who goes to an NFL game knows it can take 20 minutes or longer to get into a stadium before kickoff. And we have to go back through the detector if we forget to take our keys out, requiring us to empty our pockets into frequently dirty bins and allow a stranger to run a scanning wand across our bodies before we can pass.
We agree to this social contract in order to protect our safety inside of venues, and we put up with the time requirements. If there is no alternative, it is the only answer.
It’s time to leverage technology for advancing how we approach public safety.
The time to revisit this situation is at hand. There is a range of proven new physical safety technology capabilities from companies such as Evolv Technology (a company for which I serve on the board of directors), security video analytics from companies such as IBM, and new building access control from companies such as Johnson Controls.
These innovative technologies can help reestablish the balance between security and freedom of movement, keeping schools, houses of worship, entertainment and shopping venues welcoming and safe.
New scanning technologies, for instance, are built on radar instead of metal detection. They can find the worst threats — including guns and bombs — and distinguish an iPhone from a baby Glock with high accuracy. This clarity not only makes us safer but also restores personal privacy and dignity to security scanning checkpoints. The systems are more intelligent and can be connected to building systems, police, and others for more rapid response in the case of an incident.
Furthermore, hundreds or thousands of people can rapidly and securely enter one of these checkpoints in an hour, versus the small fraction who can pass through a metal detector in the same timeframe. We can walk normally through open gateways without emptying our pockets or bags and expect the same level of security. So, why haven’t more venues implemented these new technologies? The answer, simply, is cost and mindset.
New scanning technologies are more expensive than low-cost, half-century-old metal detector technologies. Most venue owners or managers either do not know these new technologies exist or may not see or fully understand the time value of shifting the inconvenience from their patrons (who pay in time) to themselves (who can offer a more efficient and welcoming experience).
Venue managers and owners care deeply about patron experience but often have an under-evolved position on the investments and technology around the first experience people have when entering their facilities. As a personal security technology company, you have one time to make a first impression.
The emphasis should be placed on addressing the business and customer experience drivers, not only the technological aspects. This will also require new kinds of partnerships and business models — physical-security-as-a-service — to make these new technologies easier to consume and to pay for.
If we continue on the current path of limited and inconvenient security scanning, clinging to the “punch card” era of physical security technology and practices, how can we expect change? The well-known saying from the 1800s, often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, rings true: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
The full article is available here.