University Tests Tech to Find 3D-Printed Guns, Other Threats

The new AI-integrated weapons screening system can detect both metallic and non-metallic concealed weapons, making it more useful for detecting 3D-printed weapons and other emerging threats at large events.

People waiting in line to go through an airport security checkpoint.
The weapons detection technology company Liberty Defense Holdings is beta testing its AI-integrated HEXWAVE security screening system at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to help officials detect concealed weapons — including non-metallic weapons — at large events.

According to a news release, the system works as a walkthrough screening portal that can automatically detect both metallic and non-metallic hidden weapons, such as 3D-printed weapons and improvised liquid, powder or plastic explosives, among other threats. It said the tool uses millimeter wave, video-rate 3D imaging and artificial intelligence to detect threats and give users real-time decisions on who to stop or let through.

“University campuses welcome thousands of students, staff and visitors every single day, and play host to a wide array of educational, social, sporting and other events on a regular basis,” Bill Frain, CEO of Liberty Defense, said in the announcement. “HEXWAVE has the potential to fill an important gap for campus security teams, providing a heightened level of security and an improved student or guest experience. It offers flexible and portable deployment, with the capability to automatically detect both metal and non-metal threats and other items of concern.”

The technology was developed with the help of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Frain told Government Technology, and funding from the Department of Homeland Security. He noted that the tool’s ability to scan for non-metallic weapons is particularly important as 3D printing technology improves for making durable weaponry, and as institutions and places like airports look for less invasive ways to screen for weapons.

“We’re actually creating real-time 3D imaging looking for those threats or any type of anomaly on the person, and we’re using AI with data that comes from the [radio frequency] signal and capability to automatically determine if there is a threat,” he said. “How we differ is a lot of the [security systems] out there today that have been deployed in the last few years are based on metal detection, so we’re looking at a broader spectrum of threats.”

According to a video by Liberty Defense, the HEXWAVE has the ability to process 1,000 people per hour. Frain added that the technology’s AI capabilities will improve over time, and as new security threats emerge at crowded events in the coming years.

“With HEXWAVE, it’s really driven by the algorithm, so it’s almost future proof. If you put the HEXWAVE platform in place, we’re going to be able to continue to advance and develop the technology through software and training,” he said, noting that they will update for new threats. “It’s really a smart technology driven by the algorithm and its AI capabilities.”

According to the news release, the company has previously announced beta trials with major international airports and Major League Baseball stadiums, including Toronto Pearson International Airport and Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, among other facilities. UW-Madison will be the first university to test out the technology.

“As the first university to test the HEXWAVE system, we are proud to have the opportunity to experience this security technology to see how it could improve both the experience and safety at our facilities,” said Kristen Roman, associate vice chancellor and chief of police at UW-Madison.

Frain said he believes the demand for this type of technology for mass commercial use will grow among universities and colleges in the U.S. amid an increase in mass shootings across the country in recent years keeping public safety officials on high alert.

“I think there is much more of a demand and need that we’re going to start seeing [this technology] become more commonplace,” he said. “It’s going to become more prevalent in society.”

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