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Atlanta Startup Commercializes MIT Technology to Try to Catch Mass Attacks Before They Happen

by Holly Beilin

Since 2015, the U.S. has seen over 300 mass shootings every year, according to the non-profit Gun Violence Archive. 309 days into 2018, we’ve seen 306 already — almost one mass shooting per day. 

There’s no easy solution to this problem. But Bill Riker, CEO of Atlanta-based security startup Liberty Defense, thinks that some of those could have been prevented by stopping the attacker from getting into the building.

Riker has been in the defense space for almost 40 years, largely in aerospace and security systems. Before this role he spent four years working at the world’s largest detections system company.

He was recruited by David Sidoo, a Canadian business executive, to run a new company the serial entrepreneur had formed in spring of 2018. The co-founder and now-Chairman had obtained an exclusive license to commercialize a highly-specialized 3D imaging technology from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Labs, originally developed with funding from the federal government.

In his previous roles, Riker had seen the challenges with trying to secure what he calls “soft targets,” a building’s entrances and perimeters where it’s tough to define a specific place to screen people before they enter.

“That early warning gap, that’s so necessary to set the groundwork to enable intervention and attack prevention,” Riker says.

The imaging technology, called HEXWAVE, uses radar energy to create a 3D image of physical anomalies on a person’s body or in bags. It can simultaneously scan multiple people at once, as they’re moving through any unstructured area, to identify anomalies in real-time, up to 15 feet away.

Once it identifies something of interest, the system uses machine learning and AI to analyze whether the anomaly could be a threat — a gun, bomb, knife or another weapon. It looks at the geometry and angle of the device, compares it to a catalog of weapons, and assesses potential risk to decide when to alert security personnel.

The system is designed to work progressively and iteratively, as people approach a venue or building. For example, picture a school drop-off scene where parents are letting kids off at the curb.

As individuals come through the “pre-screen area,” the security system begins to scan them. If the system identifies an object of interest that it needs to study further, it can continue scanning as they get closer to the entryway. 

Then, as they get to the final stage where they are right next to the school, there is a final screening where the system will alerts the security team in real-time, with a recommendation to begin preventative measures or to take action.

“It very much aligns with a ‘layered approach’ to security,” says Riker. “It allows us to extend the screening perimeter beyond just the portal or entry spot into a facility. Because the problem is, once a terrorist or an attacker gets that far into the building, there’s a lot of opportunity for pretty significant damage.”

Riker explains that they are designing the system to be deployed in two different ways: overtly, in the form of a kiosk that pedestrians will walk through, and covertly, with a series of sensors innocuously deployed  or around entrances of the building.

The team, currently about a dozen, is looking towards beginning alpha and beta testing next year, with full commercialization to follow in 2020. They raised an oversubscribed angel funding round of a little over $6 million to go through those phases of commercialization.

Riker is enthusiastic about the potential of the system. It’s low-energy, thereby posing no threat to human health; and it isn’t subject to environmental conditions like temperature or weather patterns. 

Moreover, since artificial intelligence and not humans are doing the screening and assessment, there’s not as many potential privacy issues as other proposed security measures.

“We want to do this right and we want to deploy it right and I think we have the right team to move forward with it,” says Riker.

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