Lisa Falzone and Chris Ciabarra came out of their respective retirements from the tech world to mitigate mass shootings. To that end, they invented an A.I. security camera that can accurately spot a gun, including a concealed weapon, in order to support police and medical teams at a crime scene. More recently, they added thermal camera technology to their offerings to accurately screen for COVID through elevated temperatures.
SEE Change recently spoke with the Lisa Falzone, co-founder of Athena Security about the venture, its capacity to save lives and the particular importance of their mission today.
Tell us about your background and why you pursued a career in the security industry?
Chris Ciabarra and I decided to come out of tech co-founder retirement in 2018 based on the mass shootings chronically plaguing schools and events; especially disconcerting to us was the Vegas shooting. Together, we co-founded Athena Security, an object detection security camera system capable of sending real-time alerts the moment a gun is spotted.
The idea for Athena Security was inspired by wanting to create a safer world for my daughter and wanting parents everywhere to feel safer when sending their kids to school. Then, when COVID-19 really accelerated in March of 2020, Chris and I took our company and turned those cameras toward the pandemic, outfitting them with thermal cameras to accurately spot elevated temperatures and to pre-screen for COVID as people enter buildings of all kinds.
Now our systems are being used to help keep not just schools safe, but airports, government buildings, offices, grocery stores, and even places of worship like the Al-Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, where our system was installed through the Keep Mosques Safe initiative
Why is it important to keep social impact/responsibility in mind while working with this technology?
While Athena Security’s technology provides a never before ability to mitigate threats with computer vision, it’s also important to be socially responsible with such new technology that could be linked to racial, ethnic, and religious profiling. Athena has proactively taken the necessary steps to eliminate profiling of any sort by masking and blurring out all subject faces in the system before the technology analyzes any and all video for potential threats. While this happens instantaneously, the end result is that no Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is tracked or distributed by Athena Security or its customers.
What’s your social impact?
By developing and distributing our thermal imaging cameras that detect weapons and pre-screen for high temperatures, a potential indicator of COVID-19 infection, we are helping make the world a safer place for many people – travelers, students, commuters, office workers, worshipers, shoppers and more – around the world. From the moment Chris and I teamed up, this was our primary goal, and we continue to hope our technology makes a positive impact on society as our company grows.
Why is temperature detection important on top of other COVID safety practices?
There is no one single thing society can do to be sure no one with COVID enters a building. It’s why we have a suite of prevention features including temp scanning, symptom screening, and mask detection (launching in a few weeks). The advantage to temperature screening with Athena is that it’s a symptom people can’t lie about. Ideally, anyone who is exposed or sick should self-isolate, but sometimes that can’t happen if a parent has to work and has no childcare. Temperature screening is a way to be sure people with the most common and verifiable symptom (and one which indicates they are likely in a contagious stage of infection) don’t enter your building.
In what ways do companies and organizations typically fail in the area of temperature detection?
There are a lot of temperature detection systems on the market, but not all of them are proven to be accurate. Accurate systems like Athena Security utilize a black body or Heat Source Reference Point (HSRP), without it, if the room temperature rises or lowers, then it’s impossible to get an accurate temperature reading.
What sets Athena Security apart from those that provide similar services?
Athena Security’s temperature detection utilizes an HSRP and is extremely accurate, within .2 degrees Celsius for temperature detection. Athena also offers a combo product to target both gun violence and the COVID pandemic. On the gun detection side, Athena Security’s A.I. thermal camera software is able to spot concealed weapons and instantly alert authorities. On the people tracking side, Athena Security has added sensors that can be placed in every room to accurately track how many people are in the building or in individual rooms to avoid COVID overcrowding issues while maintaining privacy.
Our People Counting Device can identify how many people are in a room, on a floor, or in a building to help any business maintain social distancing and prevent overcrowding. Leveraging 3D LiDAR technology, Athena Security’s People Counting Device is 99% accurate and comes calibrated right out of the box. There are no cameras on the sensor itself making everyone 100% anonymous to the system.
Athena is also dedicated to maintaining customers’ privacy by not storing any personal data or using facial recognition of any kinds because the privacy concerns are too real, and we are not looking to create a privacy-violating system. Facial recognition isn’t on our roadmap, or a field we are trying to engage in.
With society undergoing major changes during the pandemic what predictions do you have for the future of the security industry and gun/temperature detection?
With everything that the pandemic has changed, people are going to have to adapt or die in this industry. Especially now with the new strands of COVID that are mutating quickly, this is going to be our new normal and the security industry will have to adjust. We’re already seeing significant growth in the sector and expect an even wider variety of industries to adopt thermal imaging detection systems like ours in the near future.
How do Athena’s thermal cameras work for asymptomatic COVID carriers who may not have a fever?
Thermal temperature checks can only identify and flag elevated temperatures, which may include those who are symptomatic COVID-positive individuals, but Dr. Michael Chang of the Texas Medical Center, another customer of Athena Security, recently published an academic study that found COVID-positive individuals who were symptomatic (fever, cough, shortness of breath, etc.) had a larger viral load than those who were asymptomatic. While asymptomatic people can still spread the virus, symptomatic people are more likely to and can be easily identified with a temperature check upon entering a busy building.
Athena also has people counting sensors that count the number of people in a building. These sensors have no cameras to maintain privacy and help facilities achieve proper occupancy levels.
What advice do you have for those wishing to go into the security industry or simply make the most impact in their respective fields, and what traits are most valued in your field?
The security industry is a hard industry to break into, it’s a very old industry and a lot of the key players are resistant to new ideas. You have to be prepared to face resistance and the most valued trait you can bring to this industry is innovation.