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5 Minutes With… Mike Ellenbogen, CEO at Evolv Technology.

Posted on 04-Jan-2019 12:30:00

"Michael Ellenbogen, CEO at Evolv TechnologyThe idea that transport hubs have to choose between security and convenience is outdated. Most people dread the thought of lengthy, and sometimes invasive, airport security lines, but screening solutions don’t need to cause this much angst."

Anyone who travels often, or even those who don’t, will know of the hugely increased security presence at transport hubs. It used to be the preserve of just airports, but now manned checkpoints have become permanent features at some rail and metro stations. Transport Security World has written about a few of late, with L.A. Metro and Singapore both installing powerful x-ray scanners to stop would-be attackers in their tracks and reassure the public that the issue us being taken seriously.

This week we have the CEO of a company that is developing the very technology that is becoming more of a fixture at major transport hubs, Mike Ellenbogen from Evolv Technology. Mike explains to Dave Songer about how security threats have changed over the years, the challenge of introducing new measures that don't impact too heavily on passengers and why AI is where it will be at for next-generation security.

Dave Songer (DS): Can you tell me about Evolv and the products and services it offers?

Mike Ellenbogen (ME): After working in the physical security industry for more than 20 years, I co-founded Evolv Technology with Anil Chitkara in 2013. Our mission has always been to protect the fundamental right to be safe in all the places people gather, and without hassle. As attackers have shifted their focus from hard targets such as a government buildings and airplanes to soft targets like transportation hubs, sports stadiums and performing arts venues, it’s become clear that traditional screening technologies such as metal detectors are not enough as you enter the facility. With Evolv, we assembled a team of experts to identify, invent and apply new technologies to create a solution that meets the challenges of today’s evolving threat landscape.

Our flagship product, Evolv Edge, scans for bombs and weapons without the need to empty pockets using multiple sensors and millimetre wave technology to detect a range of metal, plastic and explosive threats using algorithms developed based on artificial intelligence (AI) learning models. All Evolv Edge systems are integrated with Evolv Pinpoint, a facial recognition identity threat detection capability. As someone approaches the system, Pinpoint immediately identifies persons of interest who are on a ‘be on the lookout’ (BOLO) list – such as known troublemakers trying to enter facilities from which they’ve been banned. Face recognition results are delivered in less than one second and the camera automatically adjusts to changing lighting conditions, which eliminates reliance on hard copy photographs and human interpretation; not to mention bottlenecks – such as at Oakland International Airport, California, where Evolv Edge has been installed to  protect against firearms and explosives.

Evolv produces security systems that keeps disruption to a minimum
DS: What do you like about being involved in the industry?

ME: Transportation security is a critically important industry. Attackers have turned their attention to open places where a lot of people gather, a trend that emerged because soft targets weren’t believed to be closely or heavily monitored and protected. Old school “wait in line and dump your pockets” security screening is just too burdensome for most venues, so they frequently go without anything at all. There’s a clear need for smarter, safer and more welcoming solutions for people entering these facilities. Today, people expect a level of safety, whether it’s at the airport or in a bus station – but they don’t want to compromise on time or experience. I enjoy working to invent and provide better, more innovative solutions that make people safer, and which can actually make the screening experience more enjoyable.

DS: What are the main challenges around transport security? Have they changed in more recent times?

ME: As a whole, transportation is an interesting industry because its sub-industries are all very different and, as a result, face different challenges. In terms of the aviation industry, it really doesn’t take much to cause a catastrophic situation. In the past, attackers were focused on targeting the aircraft itself, which as a result, has become very well protected through multiple layers of technology and intelligence. In recent years, though, the threat has expanded beyond the aircraft to the airports themselves, and in many cases, the mass transit infrastructure – such as rail and subway – that supports the airport.   

With surface transportation, the threat is different because the volume of passengers and speed with which everything moves creates a unique set of challenges. When designing solutions for this environment, security providers need to stop and think, “how do I ensure I’ve created a safe, but not necessarily sterile, environment?” A different approach is needed to maintain the balance between efficiency and safety, something we’re working on at Evolv: screening that consistently scans for bombs, weapons and persons of interest without disrupting the natural flow of movement.

TSC-logoTo find out more about transport security technologies and how they’re being employed to keep the travelling public safe – wherever in the world – visit the Transport Security Congress. The show is co-located with SafeRail and will take place in Washington D.C. on May 14th-15th. To find out how to attend, visit the show website.

DS: What are the main things that dissuade attackers from targeting sites?

ME: The biggest deterrent is a visible security presence. Attackers themselves have acknowledged that visible security measures such as screening systems and guards have caused them to shift from their primary target to a secondary location. For instance, it was recently disclosed that the attacker of the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, targeted it after he observed a visible security presence at both his primary and secondary target locations.

In an attempt to beat criminals at their own game, there has been a shift to covert security and hidden cameras. However, when trying to prevent an attack on a facility, I believe it’s much smarter to implement security that is overt enough to deter a would-be attacker, but not so overt it ruins everyone’s day.

DS: What will be some of the biggest differences in transport security in 10 years’ time?

ME: More seamless security processes powered by things like smart sensors, identity and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for mass transit systems. Aviation is of course unique because of the threats it is exposed to and regulations it is governed by, but I predict we’ll generally see a much more convenient and hassle-free airport security experience. I also believe there is more to come in ground transportation security. We’ve barely scratched the surface today and I anticipate this will be a big focal area in the years to come.

The idea that transport hubs have to choose between security and convenience is outdated. Most people dread the thought of lengthy, and sometimes invasive, airport security lines, but screening solutions don’t need to cause this much angst. Similarly, transportation hubs shouldn’t fear that implementing new and improved screening solutions will hinder the traveller experience.

It’s important that security managers look for screening solutions which balance security posture and patron experience, ensuring it’s effective, but not too obtrusive for visitors. Rather than using clunky metal detectors, use a blend of state-of-the-art technologies – high throughput technologies with sensors and artificial intelligence. These systems keep the flow of people moving and minimise physical interaction – such as physical pat down or hand wanding – essentially eliminating the inconveniences associated with the current security screening processes.

DS: Is there a security-related technology that has grabbed your attention?

ME: I’ve come across a lot of different solutions and systems over my career, but most recently I’ve been impressed by BriefCam, a video surveillance camera that compresses time in videos and understands the context of the entire scene to detect, track and classify objects.

I also find AI-powered security robots extremely interesting. The US has 325 million people, but only 700,000 police officers to protect and serve them. Security guards are the backbone of most physical security plans; however, we haven’t been empowering them. Technology can be used to augment the guard force and provide them with tools that can increase their effectiveness. Just imagine the value of a robotic guard alternative that can automate the security process and ensure more soft targets are kept safe.

DS: Thanks Mike, it's been illuminating to hear your views on the future of security. All the best for the future.


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Dave Songer
Dave Songer