Imagine going through theme park security without having to open all your bags and allowing a security guard to look through your things, or not even having to put your bags into an x-ray machine. That may be the case soon at some Six Flags parks.
As attractions begin reopening after their coronavirus closures, theme parks are reevaluating the security screenings their guests go through in light of social distancing measures, and Anil Chitkara’s company, Evolv Technology, has introduced an innovative touch-free system Six Flags recently featured in a video highlighting their parks’ new safety procedures.
Ever since 9/11, theme parks have implemented various types of security screenings to ensure that guests don’t enter with weapons or other prohibited items. The Walt Disney World and Disneyland resorts use a combination of manual bag inspections and walk-through metal detectors, while Universal resorts employ automated bag-screening machines and walk-through metal detectors. However, in announcing their reopening plans, Six Flags has released the following video depicting the use of the Evolv Express security system in their parks, which permits guests and their belongings to be inspected while walking through without removing or opening their bags at all:
The new bag screening system depicted in Six Flags’ video comes from Evolv Technology, which was co-founded by Anil Chitkara. Six Flags will only confirm that the chain has ordered 37 Evolv Express units, but is not sharing publicly at this time at which parks (in addition to Frontier City) they’ll be used at, or how many units per park. Chitkara himself was unable to confirm or provide any specific details about his company’s involvement with Six Flags (a standard contractual limitation in the security industry). However, he did provide us this exclusive interview about how his team is helping to keep guests both safe and happy in the age of COVID-19. (Note: this interview has been edited for space and clarity.)
How did Evolv Technologies get started?
We started the company about to about seven years ago, myself and my co-founder, named Mike Ellenbogan. Mike has been in the physical security industry for 20 years after Pan Am 103 … My background is more sort of business and technology. And we’d known each other for 15 years at that point.
I had sold the company I was at, Mike sold the company that he was at, and we were trying to figure out what to do next. There were two pieces of motivation: the Boston Marathon bombing, and 9/11. In the case of 9/11, my college roommate and good friend was in the north tower; had just gotten married, had a kid and unfortunately, he was part of Cantor Fitzgerald [headquarters], which was tragic.
In the case of the marathon, my wife is a marathoner. She had run that marathon. I had my three young kids at the finish line. She finished about 45 minutes before the first bomb went off, got in the car came home … and then all of the news happened. A good friend of ours was there, actually, he got he got hit with the second bomb and has fragmentation.
It really caused me to think about, what do I want to do next? And how do I want to spend the next 10 to 20 years? I done a lot with technology to solve business problems. Mike had done a lot to bring innovative technology to physical security. And we went out and talked to lots of people about how they were trying to keep their venue safe.
I thought about my kids. I don’t want them to have to live a life where it is airport style screening everywhere they go. I want them to be able to live as freely as possible, but also as safely as possible. And that was my personal motivation around starting a company.
Where is your technology currently in use?
At the end of 2017, we started deploying technology, so it’s been deployed and screening people since the end of 2017. We’ve screened well over 50 million people since it’s been deployed; it’s probably closer to 60 million people now. And our customers have used the technology to find thousands of weapons. The types of places where it’s deployed are largely commercial venues, so those have been performing arts centers, sporting stadiums, museums, and tourist locations. They’ve largely been places where they hadn’t used walk-through metal detectors up to that point; they’d been trying them, but they just weren’t doing the trick. They basically were too invasive relative to the visitors that were coming in.
About a year ago, we launched the second product, which is the Evolv Express product [which is what is featured in Six Flags’ video]. We’ve screened millions of people with that product. There were two very large events we did last fall screening with Express. One of them was a week long conference in San Francisco when we screened about 500,000 people, and then there was a second conference we did a month later where we screened about 400,000 people. So there’s been some very large scale, high volume deployments that have been used for the system. There are other applications where people are screening it using it for visitors on a daily basis.
We haven’t yet used it in a theme park environment. We’ve used it in large scale events, and we’ve used them in some sporting events in some performing arts and entertainment events. But not a theme park event up to now.
What makes Evolv Express different from other screening technologies, such as X-Ray machines, metal detectors, or millimeter wave scanners?
They [Venue operators] don’t want people to stop. They don’t want people to take things out of their pockets. They want to just have them move right through and they want to screen the people and their belongings in their bags, all in one fell swoop. So we built technology to do that; we built a set of sensors, and then we applied an AI or artificial intelligence algorithm based on the data to train the system. We have a set of sensors that give off signals, and those signals give you a sense of ‘is that a phone or a firearm coming through the system’, and based on this signal, the artificial intelligence engine deems it to be a threat or not a threat: red-light/green-light, essentially. We’ve trained the system on hundreds of firearms, explosive devices, knives and other weapons. And then the same hundreds of cell phones, keys, coins, water bottles, personal items, so that he can recognize and differentiate those two things as somebody moves through without taking anything out of their pockets, and gives them an answer as they exit the system.
It’s looking at characteristics of the metal sample. Is it like titanium, or is it like steel? If it’s titanium, that might be like an artificial knee or artificial hip, so that may not be a threat … In addition to the type of metal, it’ll look at the shape of metal [and] where it’s located, so there’s a set of these signals that feed the AI algorithm.
What’s the hourly guest capacity and staffing requirement of the Evolv Express?
One unit of Express has two lanes. Each of those lanes could do 1,800 guests an hour, or 3,600 for that combined system. That compares to a walk through metal detector where they’re doing “take things out, check the body, check the bags,” those tend to be about 250 to 300, maybe 350 people per hour. So this is about 10 times the speed of a traditional approach.
If we look at the walk-through metal detector, let’s say you need 10 units. They tend to have two and a half people per unit; they have a front and a back and a supervisor. For us, you tend to have between four and six people per unit, so the staffing is significantly reduced.
The turnover in the security guard industry in the U.S. is 300% or three times a year, the entire industry. Therefore, training and getting skilled guards is a challenge, so we have automated some of the key tasks [and] provided a level of automation that assists the guard, so that they can be very targeted in their search.
What are the advantages to Evolv Express over traditional bag screening methods in a COVID-19 reopening environment?
Ninety days ago, we used to talk about 3,600 people an hour coming through; today, we talk about a touchless contact screening process. If I’m going through those 42-inch-wide lanes, without taking anything off and going right through and the alarm rate is extremely low, then I keep going; thousands of people are going through never being touched by a security guard. One benefit is the proximity of guard to visitor is lower, because they walk right through. A second benefit is the speed enables people to go through quickly without lines building up, so are eliminating visitor-to-visitor proximity as you’re waiting in line to go through security. And then anybody that’s looking at bags manually is touching every bag; people are trying to figure out how can I have less touch, but fundamentally, you’ve got to look in the bag when you’re doing a manual process.
How does Evolv Express improve the overall guest experience?
There’s so much work and effort that’s put in around the visitor experience, but then the security experience just grinds things to a halt. There is excitement, you get there, you want to get in, you want to participate or listen or enjoy the entertainment, and then grinding to a halt because I’ve got to stop, I’ve got to put my bag down, I’ve got to take everything out of my pockets. That’s we’re trying to fundamentally change: that visitor experience. That’s essentially one of the key principles of the technology we’ve developed.
Have there been studies demonstrating your technology’s detection rate compared to the more traditional methods?
We’ve done a number of studies with both government and commercial organizations, and a number of large organizations will do the testing themselves. They’ll do lab based testing: we’ll take a system and run a bunch of threats through and a bunch of nuisance alarm items that they’ll read. And they’ll actually put threats on individuals and have them go through the system in operation. We’ve done that extensively; we can’t share specific customers or specific examples of what’s been done, but that’s been done a number of times in the U.S. and Europe. And what they had found is that the detection rate is a combination of the technology, plus the people operating it, plus the processing protocols … The breakdown oftentimes comes in the guards or the protocols relative to that overall system, so what’s been told to us is the effectiveness of the overall system has been much higher with our technology as part of an overall system than with the traditional technology.
How is the Evolv Express system priced?
We don’t publicly share actual pricing levels. We have a subscription model … a per month fee, not “buy it and you own it forever.” We include improvements, upgrades, service, and everything all combined into that one monthly price. So the pricing model is something we believe is pretty unique in the industry.
What is your current outlook as attractions reopen after the pandemic quarantine?
Everybody sort of hunkered down when COVID hit right. There was a lot of “how am I going to respond to this?” Over the last four weeks, we’ve had a significant amount of inquiries from organizations as they plan their reopening. And many of these organizations have used the “mag and bag,” (the walk through a metal detector and bag) approach in the past and they just don’t believe that’s the right way to go to do it going forward. What’s changed is they’re trying to balance the public health threat and the public safety threat, and do something that considers both of those.
It’s going to be different going forward. It needs to be lower touch, it needs to be cognizant of the public health risks, as well as the public safety risks. And so they’re looking to our technology to be able to help them enable that.
For more information on Evolv, visit evolvtechnology.com.