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Transforming Human Security and Saving Lives

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Mike Ellenbogen Headshot
Mike Ellenbogen
Founder, Chief Innovation Officer
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Publish date

Apr 27, 2021

Evolv Earns Edison Award for Completely Reinventing Threat Detection

Last week I had the distinct honor of accepting, on behalf of everyone at Evolv Technology, the Edison Award we won last year for the “game-changing innovation” that our Evolv Express® system and Evolv Cortex AI™ software platform represent. We got word of the award last spring, but there was no public event at which to actually receive it – so while I participated in this year’s ceremony from afar, it was gratifying to virtually bring the award home.

That’s because the Edison Award is one you want to display proudly for all to see. It’s one of the few awards that truly recognizes significant technical innovation in products that solve actual problems in the real world, as opposed to in a lab. And herein lies our story.

As the original announcement said, the award goes to companies that are “changing the world with their incredible vision, their commitment to innovation, and the introduction of new products and services that will make consumers’ lives safer, healthier and more sustainable.” 

Our second-generation product, Evolv Express, for which we earned this award, is a game-changing weapons detection system. With its’ ability to scan up to 3,600 people an hour and the intelligence to differentiate between weapons and personal items – without forcing people to empty pockets and bags or break stride – it’s improving security at the speed and scale required in this post-pandemic world. 

Evolv Technology is leading the digital transformation of physical security, one that is touchless and addresses today’s threat of pandemic viruses as well as concealed weapons. By harnessing our technical innovations in sensors and AI to overcome the widely recognized deficiencies of outdated security screening products, Evolv’s technology enables ticketed venues, workplaces and schools to vastly improve their ability to keep their customers, employees, guests, students and staff safe all while rapidly and more naturally enter these venues.  And, it’s all done in a way that integrates with the way people want to live, and more importantly, the way they deserve to live.


Edison, Bell and Early Metal Detectors

The Edison Award, of course, is named after Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors of all time, and holder of some 1,093 U.S. patents. Evolv Express is an entirely new approach to metal detection technology first created by another renowned inventor and Edison contemporary, Alexander Graham Bell.

While Bell is best known as the inventor of the telephone, he was also experimenting with a metal detection device around the time in 1881 when President James Garfield was shot by a disgruntled diplomat. The bullet was lodged in the president’s chest and for weeks physicians attempted to find and extract the bullet.

Bell had successfully used his device to detect bullets in sides of beef and shrapnel in Civil War veterans, so he thought it may be of use in Garfield’s case. But the device failed for a simple reason: unbeknownst to Bell at the time, underneath the horse-hair mattress on which the president was lying was another made of steel wires. Those wires interfered with Bell’s metal detector, which was based on electrical inductors, rendering him unable to find the bullet. In other words, the technology couldn’t separate the signal from the noise – we’ll come back to this technical challenge

By the 1920s, metal detectors using radio frequency (RF) waves began to come on the scene. While they have been refined over time, the metal detectors we all pass through today are based on that same 100-year-old technology.  

Interference: An Age-old Issue

And that technology still suffers from the same challenges that rendered Bell’s detector unable to help President Garfield….interference. As we all know, anytime you pass through a metal detector, you are asked to empty your pockets and remove any metal – keys, phones, wallets and so on, and pass through in single file. In effect, all those personal items are interfering with the detector’s ability to detect the real threat: weapons. Legacy technology and an outdated approach certainly don’t integrate with the way people live today.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

In 2013, after the Sandy Hook school shooting and Boston Marathon bombing and amid terrorists shifting targets to nightclubs and stadiums around the globe, we founded Evolv with the singular goal of keeping people safe by finding a way to detect weapons at places that aren’t mandated to do so – like nightclubs, schools, workplaces, sports and concert venues.

These kinds of venues, companies and schools need security that does not disrupt the public gathering experience and avoids the problems that come with traditional security approaches such as crowds, single-file lines, bag checks, wands and invasive pat downs.

We knew there was a hurdle to get over. If the detection device presents too much hassle and creates lines, people won’t embrace it.  It needed to be seamless, accurate and fit within venue operations.  It had to balance the desire to improve safety with the need to maintain or even improve the visitor entrance experience.

Evolv has a Singular Goal

Starting out with a small team of colleagues who are world-class in understanding detection challenges, we had the idea to combine state-of-the-art sensors with smart software and machine learning algorithms to solve this problem. After refinement and iteration, we’ve delivered on our goal: detection technology that is all at once accurate and frictionless. And can perform reliably under real world conditions.

Now, About that Signal to Noise Problem

When I say accurate, I mean we can reliably differentiate a weapon from a phone and the other objects we all carry on a daily basis, and we’ve accounted for variables such as wind and vibration that may throw off other forms of RF-based sensors. And by frictionless, I mean you no longer have to empty pockets, go through screening single-file, or even slow down your normal walking speed.

Security Can Only be Effective if it Works in the Real World

Innovation in our space has to address often competing requirements: balance the physics of detection, address the realities of the all the stuff we carry, and support the operational needs of the customer.  And it has to satisfy all three in a way that achieves high throughput, quickly and more securely.

That, I would argue – and the Edison Award folks apparently agree – is game-changing technology. And it certainly helps to make us all safer.

So, I proudly accepted the Edison Award last week on behalf of all the smart, dedicated people on the Evolv team who helped develop this technology, refine it in the lab, and bring it out into the field, where it can solve real-world problems. I hope both Edison and Bell would be impressed.

Mike Ellenbogen Headshot
Mike Ellenbogen
Founder, Chief Innovation Officer

Mike Ellenbogen is a member of the Evolv Technology Executive Leadership Team, where he serves as Chief Innovation Officer. Mike co-founded the company along with Anil Chitkara in August 2013. Mike is a veteran of the physical security and detection industry, serving as an executive for companies including PerkinElmer, Vivid Technologies, and General Catalyst. His past work includes founding and serving as Chief Executive Officer of Reveal Imaging Technologies, where he helped revolutionize the X-ray imaging and automated detection technologies for the security industry. Prior to founding Evolv, he and Anil served as Executives in Residence (EIR) at General Catalyst Partners, focusing on investing in early-stage hardware and software companies in analytical instruments, sensors and related services markets. Mike holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Colgate University. He holds nineteen patents in the field of X-ray inspection and automated detection technology and is well-known as a leader within the security industry.

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