AI weapons scanner hits back at UK testing claims

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An AI weapons scanning company has backed down from claims that its technology has been tested by the UK government.

Evolv Technology makes “intelligent” scanners designed to replace metal detectors by identifying people with hidden guns, knives and bombs.

But the company has faced criticism for overstating what the technology can deliver.

Evolu told BBC News that it had changed its claims about UK testing to “better reflect the process taken”.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating its “marketing practices.” The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) had launched an investigation against the company last month.

As well as many of America’s largest stadiums and hundreds of schools, Evolv scanners are used at Manchester Arena.

The company said its AI weapons scanner has been tested by the UK government’s National Protective Security Authority (NPSA).

On February 20, the company issued a press release, which included the claim that the NPSA was one of several testers who “concluded that the Evolv Express solution is effective in detecting firearms and other types of weapons. It was very effective.”

But BBC News can reveal that the NPSA does not carry out such checks.

When BBC News told Evolu, the company said: “Following discussions with the NPSA, we have updated the language used in the February 20 press release to better reflect the process. can be revealed.”

Instead, it said: An independent company had “tested and validated” Evolu’s technology using NPSA standards.

But the UK company that carried out the tests, Matrix NDT, told BBC News that “it is not correct to say we have ‘validated’ the system.”

‘close examination’

Nick Fox, managing director of Matrix NDT, told BBC News that Evolu’s system had indeed been tested against NPSA specifications.

But when asked if the Matrix NDT had found it “highly effective in detecting firearms and many other types of weapons”, he said: “It is not within our jurisdiction to make any value judgments on the results. ”

In addition to these results, Evolv provides full third-party testing reports for detection performance to any serious potential customer, Evolv told the BBC.

Professor Marion Oswald, who was on the government’s Center for Data Ethics and Innovation advisory board until last year, told BBC News it was concerned the technology was replacing “tried and tested” security options.

“It highlights the need for really close scrutiny and possible additional regulation of companies making these kinds of claims,” ​​he told BBC News.

And she was worried about how consumers might be affected, “especially if claims are being made about how some government agencies might be involved”.

image caption,

An Evolv screen that alerts users to potential threats.

Evolv has previously said its technology detects the “signature” of concealed weapons.

“The metal structure, the shape, the fragmentation — we have tens of thousands of signatures for all these weapons,” chief executive Peter George said in 2021, “all the guns, all the bombs and all the big tactical knives.”

But the company has faced criticism that it cannot reliably detect knives or bombs. Evolv now says it can detect “many types of knives and some explosives.”

In 2022, following a Freedom of Information request by security analysis company Internet Protocol Video Market (IPVM), BBC News revealed that testing of a US facility found that Evolu’s technology was permanently But it cannot detect knives and certain types of bombs.

Evolv should inform potential customers, testers said.

But during that investigation, in August 2022, Evolu also told BBC News that the NPSA (then called the Center for the Protection of National Infrastructure CPNI) had tested its system. “We have experimented with the UK CPNI,” a representative told BBC News.

A Home Office official said: “We are looking to further understand the capabilities of weapons detection equipment.”

image caption,

Hundreds of US schools use Evolv scanners.

Evolv also amended another claim in its February 20 press release. Evolv initially cited the name of its technology as an example of recent “third-party testing” under the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Act.

It was later changed to reflect the fact that the designation did not involve DHS conducting a new test but rather a review of other evidence.

In May last year, BBC News revealed more details about a stabbing at a New York school in which the Evolve scanners were used.

Brian Nolan, the superintendent of Proctor High School at the time, said: “Through investigation, it was determined that the Evolv weapon detection system… was not designed to detect knives.”

The victim is suing Evolv and the scanners were replaced with 10 metal detectors.

‘deep regret’

The company has changed the front of its website several times.

Initially claiming that its goal was to create “weapon-free zones,” the website now says its mission is to create “safer experiences.”

Last year, the company said it regretted any confusion about its technology’s capabilities.

“We wholeheartedly believe in our technology and our mission and deeply regret if any of our past statements have confused or misrepresented our ability to make public at this time,” it said.

But questions remain about what Evolv previously told consumers its technology was capable of and the testing it went through.

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