EXCLUSIVE: Innovating the century-old weapons detection industry

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Security Journal Americas hears exclusively from Mike Ellenbogen, Evolv Technology’s Co-Founder about innovative AI-based weapons detection.

Why did you create a company around a technology that leverages AI for weapons detection?

There has been so much innovation since the first metal detector was created more than 100 years ago; we saw an opportunity to leverage some of that incredible innovation to improve upon something that hasn’t really been upgraded in a century.

Today, people are walking around with items in their pockets and bags and on their person that are made of metal.

For example, just two decades ago, we weren’t carrying around a small computer in our pockets everywhere we went.

This reality means it’s near impossible for people to walk through traditional metal detector technology without being stopped and required to undergo secondary screening.

We knew there had to be a better way.

So, we brought together advanced sensors with AI in order to screen items for a combination of material, shape and component parts of weapons.

Material alone is no longer feasible for the weapons detection needs of the 21st century.

That leads to too many false alarms, guard fatigue, soft targets and an increased risk for human error.

How has the industry reacted to AI-based weapons detection?

That is an interesting question and requires a nuanced answer.

Our customers – i.e., security professionals – have been excited about our technology and the experience it creates for their venues and buildings.

That said, they are seasoned security professionals and take their responsibility for people’s safety very seriously.

So, they don’t just take our word for a new weapons detection technology.

Many put our systems through their own testing protocols, which sometimes means they test our systems for up to a year before they determine if it’s right for their unique environment.

Once they have ensured it works within their layered approach to security – people, process and technology – they are very pleased with the weapons detection capabilities combined with the ability to get up to 4,000 people per hour through the system.

When their fans, employees, guests and/or students experience the difference, they tell us they are thrilled with the new weapons detection screening process.

In fact, many people comment they didn’t even realize they walked through security given how seamless the experience can be.

With any new technology, there are detractors and misunderstandings.

We are not immune to that and work diligently to educate people on how we use the technology so that they not only feel safer about walking into a football stadium, for example, but also comfortable in how we screen them and their family members.

When it comes to security – new or old tech – it’s imperative we educate people that nothing is 100% effective in preventing items getting through.

I think when we have new weapons detection technology that improves the experience, it’s easy for everyone to get excited.

However, we still need to be aware that no matter how much we wish we could stop everything, our job as security professionals is to mitigate risk.

How do you balance the need to keep people safe with their desire for transparency (about the tech and how it works)?

A large majority of the Evolv team comes with a physical security background and a belief that bad actors are always looking for ways to get around systems.

Therefore, we take our responsibility to keep specific information – e.g., what specific items our system will detect and what it will not – out of their hands.

We believe publishing any information that could help someone identify vulnerabilities in a security system is irresponsible and dangerous.

That means, of course, we receive criticism for not being 100% transparent with the public, which is a criticism we welcome.

While it can be hard for individuals not in the security industry to understand why we protect some of that information, we do so with their safety in mind.

We are very transparent with the security professionals that have been tasked with keeping their venues and buildings safe.

We believe they need to know exactly how our weapons detection system works, what it does/does not detect and its vulnerabilities.

We trust them to make a fully informed decision about whether our weapons detection system is best for their environment once they have all the necessary information.

How do you approach the testing of your systems?

The Evolv Express weapons detection system has been thoroughly tested by government and commercial experts.

These tests look at weapons as they exist in the real world and that are composed of steel, aluminum and composite components.

Evolv has been awarded the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) SAFETY Act Designation as a Qualified Anti-Terrorism Technology (QATT) as well as the Security Industry Association (SIA) New Products and Solutions (NPS) Award in the Law Enforcement/Public Safety/Guarding Systems category. 

We do often hear criticism about the lack of testing and certification when it comes to ours and other weapons detection screening technology.

Given the role this industry plays in the public’s ability to be and feel safer when going about their daily lives, I do believe the creation of industry testing/certification by a trusted security organization is important and hope to see a standard benchmark from which technologies like ours are evaluated in the future.

What are you hearing from customers about their security needs?

Our customers are looking for a way to mitigate the risk of a high-casualty event while creating a welcoming and positive experience for the people who go to their venue/building.

Most of our customers cannot create a prison-like security screening experience and expect that their fans, guests or employees will return.

Likewise, they cannot have an environment where there is no security or security screening that seeks to keep items that are not permitted getting in. 

More than ever, they are looking for a balance in weapons detection.

They know nothing is 100% effective when it comes to physical security, so they are looking for the best tools to mitigate risk at each layer of their security: the people, the process and the technology.

Our customers know we are just one part of the much larger security puzzle.

How does Evolv differ from other types of weapons screening available today?

Metal detectors – and upgraded metal detectors – are looking for metal alone; Evolv Express has a much more sophisticated system of looking for and identifying weapons – their material, shapes and component parts. 

Unlike other screening technology, our weapons detection system pinpoints where a potential threat is on a person, which greatly reduces the amount of physical contact required and allows guards to act quickly and efficiently.

How do you respond to the criticism that you (and others) have received about not detecting all weapons?

Our systems are looking for weapons that can cause mass casualty damage such as guns, large tactical knives and explosives.

If a venue is looking to keep out all items that have the potential to cause any harm, we would all be going through TSA-like screening at every event.

Our weapons detection technology was built to balance the need to keep weapons of mass casualty out while allowing people to go about their lives without feeling like they are entering a prison or airport every time they attend a football game, concert or go to school.

What do you think is most important when marketing this new detection technology?

Taking screening technology to the mainstream is a very delicate balance of making the public aware of its capabilities and keeping information out of the hands of bad actors.

At Evolv, we understand just how delicate that balance can be.

We are a mission-based company, seeking to make the places where people gather together safer and continue to improve our technology, as well as how we talk about it.

How do you think the industry has changed over the past ten years?

There has been a lot of exciting progress and innovation over the past decade.

At Evolv and across the industry, there are a lot of smart people that recognized technology can and should play a bigger role in safety and security.

Rather than just relying on the old way of doing things, individuals and companies are finding new ways technology can be paired with people and process to make venues and buildings safer and mitigate the risk of a mass casualty event.

What are you most optimistic about when it comes to the weapons detection industry?

Unfortunately, the world continues to demonstrate that there are people and situations that threaten our personal and community’s safety.

Personally, I wish that wasn’t the case and that technology like ours was not needed.

As a husband, father, friend and colleague, I mourn the fact that people must learn to live with this reality.

That said, I am optimistic that within this reality, we can continue to innovate and find ways that enable people to go about their lives in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they are walking into an airport or prison – and that make them feel safer.

When we start to feel unsafe, people stop living their lives the way they always did. That is not ok.

I am pleased that we have people committed to integrating technology in ways that are seamless and non-obtrusive, so people can go about their lives.

This article on executive protection was originally published in the December edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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