A new startup from Figure’s founder is licensing NASA tech in a bid to curb school shootings

In 2013, there were 26 reported school shootings in the U.S. That figure rose to 82 a decade later. America has a school shooting problem, this much we can agree on. The cause of — and solution to — the issue, on the other hand, is where things start to fall apart. It has become one of the most polarizing topics for a very polarized country. Solutions range from far stricter gun enforcement and more robust mental health investments to locking doors and arming teachers.

The dramatic uptick in instances has create a cottage industry of tech startups hoping to address the problem. There’s ZeroEyes, which uses AI imaging monitored by law enforcement, panic alert system Centegix and scanner-maker Evolv Technology, among others. Studies conducted by research institutes like Johns Hopkins have, however, called their efficacy into question.

Cover, a new startup from Archer and Figure AI founder Brett Adcock, thinks it has cracked the code. At its core, the company’s approach isn’t wholly dissimilar from existing methods like metal detectors and scanners, in that it monitors a school’s entryway. A pair of the objects seen above are mounted on a doorway, scanning those who walk through.

Cover says what sets it apart is the underlying technology it employs, which has been exclusively licensed from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). In fact, the startup is headquartered in Pasadena, California, as several employees at the nearby JPL facility have joined on.

Adcock compares the underlying technology to full-body scanners that supplement metal detectors at many airports. “Our system is very similar to that, but it’s, like, 10x more powerful and accurate,” he told TechCrunch. “So, we can basically do very long-distance scanning. Ten to 15 feet away, we can scan somebody, instead of having them sit here for a couple of seconds in line.”

The comparison to TSA scanners, however, points to what could well prove a major hurdle for the technology’s wide-scale adoption. The topic has been a minefield of privacy advocate pushback, owing to their ability to effectively see under clothing. In 2019, the TSA announced that it would require full-body scanners to add a layer of privacy protection. Such concerns will likely be exacerbated by the fact that the technology will largely be scanning minors in a school setting.

Adcock explains that the system will be monitored by AI, rather than humans, while only looking for a “finite” number of weapons, including guns, knives and explosives. “That’s all we’ll be looking for,” he said. “We’re not going to surface uncompressed files out of the system. We won’t have a place to store them, we won’t need them. We’re just using an onboard neural net to look for weapons. There will be no [issue with] how we protect people’s faces, because we won’t even log it or store it.”

Once a threat is identified, a cropped image of the object will be made available to administration.

How opt-in this system will ultimately be and what alternatives will be in place falls at the feet of the schools and districts that choose to implement the technology. The system will identify potential risks based on factors including size, shape and material. The latter, for instance, should help tell the difference of a handgun from a squirt gun.

“People should not be bringing squirt guns into school during this level of security risk,” Adcock said. “I would say if people are bringing in a squirt gun, we’d really want to detect it. Now, I do think we’ll actually be able to detect the difference between a squirt gun and a [hand]gun, because metal and water are very different. I think the image will be very helpful here in figuring out whether it’s a false positive.”

Like Figure AI, Cover is being bootstrapped by Adcock, who has thus far put around $2 million into the young startup.


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