Patriot One and LAFC plan to share information on safety strategies with other organizations. (Courtesy Patriot One)

PatScan system uses artificial intelligence to identify threats

The Los Angeles Football Club is deploying Patriot One Technologies’ PatScan system at its Banc of California Stadium, which officials of the company and the MLS team think will help reduce guest experience friction by bringing artificial intelligence to bear at gates and, eventually, in security operations throughout the venue.

PatScan, already in use at Great American Ball Park, home of MLB’s Cincinnati Reds, uses hidden sensors and machine learning to detect threats such as concealed weapons, chemicals and bombs, fights and other disturbances and more recently has added health and safety modules that can be used to monitor body temperature, mask use and physical distancing.

The company and LAFC, which have been ramping up their partnership since December, plan to work with other pro sports organizations and venues to share information on safety and security strategies through a consortium called the Stadium & Event Safety Strategic Alliance, according to LAFC and Banc of California Stadium Chief Technology Officer Christian Lau.

In addition, LAFC will use Boston-based Armored Things’ crowd intelligence software system once crowds return to the stadium.

If the name Patriot One sounds like the title of a Tom Clancy novel, it might not be surprising that the PatScan system is, at least in part, an outgrowth of military technology, according to CEO Martin Cronin.

“There’s quite a bit of expertise within the company out of the U.S., British and Canadian governments across policing, intelligence and the military,” Cronin said. “The real genesis of it was a Canadian police officer who had been shot and wounded on an undercover operation was recuperating in hospital and thought there must be a better of knowing if people have weapons so he started doing a bit of research and he came across the research which had been going on at McMaster University in (Hamilton) Ontario over a period of years with some funding support from the Canadian government and from NATO and he went to some friends in the financial community in Vancouver and said, ‘Hey look, this is an interesting technology you should do something about it.’”

A group came together in Vancouver and secured the license to the research, according to Cronin, who came into the project with some of his colleagues with experience in the security sector.

“What we realized very early on was that one single sensor package was not going to meet all the requirements of what we had in mind, so we then began identifying other sensors that we needed to bring into the mix,” he said.

The company licensed technology that was used to protect submarines, entered a joint venture with a group out of the University of Texas in Dallas in the field of explosive detection, acquired a machine vision company out of New Brunswick, Canada, as well as an AI company out of Vancouver had been doing work for the Canadian military in taking different sensor payloads from unmanned aerial vehicle platforms and combining them into a single picture, Cronin explained.

“So it’s been four years essentially of assembling the component parts and then building the AI-driven neural network which ingests all of that sensor data and creates the meaningful picture for security professionals,” he said.

In the current security environment, with “the type of attacks which were once confined to the Middle East and other war zones now (occurring) on the streets of the U.S. and European cities,” it makes sense to “pull some of the technologies that are available to our military and other government agencies and new innovations out of our universities and deploy them in public environments … to keep the public safe from active shooters, terrorist acts, etc.,” Cronin said.

The PatScan system is designed to integrate a venue’s existing infrastructure as well as proprietary sensors developed by Patriot One.

“Everything has been designed to be readily integrated with existing infrastructure because we’re very conscious that venues have made big investments in their video management systems, their access controls, etc., and we’re not looking to replace any of that, but simply to be able to plug in and supplement it with an additional layer of security, so everything has a very open architecture to lend itself to integration like that,” Cronin said. “We have had to innovate and design sensors simply because there wasn’t anything on the market to generate the kind of complex data that we needed, but we’re very open to third-party integration if somebody comes along with a suitable sensor package.”

The system has been deployed at the University of North Dakota, in the education sector in West Virginia and at a number of sites in Canada, and Cronin says the company is “getting a lot of traction with professional sports franchises who are looking at designing out the security experience of the future.”

“I mean they’re very conscious of not wanting to make the fan experience ever-more obstructed in just endless layers of security,” he said. “What appeals to them about what we can provide is a much freer flow of people and a better fan experience. And of course the other area that they are looking at right now is how to reopen safely amid the COVID crisis, so there is a lot of interest around the health and safety modules … of the being able to detect elevated body temperature, if in certain circumstances masks are mandated we have a module to detect compliance with that. So people are interested in both the security, to prevent acts of physical violence, but also the health and safety aspects.”

Lau says reducing friction in the guest experience is a key goal for LAFC.

“Any time there’s a solution that helps us achieve a reduction in friction, even by a couple percentage points, then we’re going to do it,” he said. “One of the core tenets of our entire guest experience strategy is the reduction if not elimination of friction.”

Easing passage through security on entry is a big part of that, says Lau.

“Really, you’re going through a metal detector and it’s a very hands-on experience and you feel like you’re trying to catch a flight, but you’re going to a concert (or game),” he said. “So what we want to do, and this is what we are working with Patriot One on, is a seamless, frictionless experience coming into the venue. The idea ultimately is we want you to be able to walk into our venue not unlike you would a Target store. You look at PatScan, and there are multiple components to it, but basically it eliminates those magnetometers that you see, and the need for you to divest your stuff, things that are in your pockets, for example. All that goes away. They’ve got a very cool tech stack that we want to test out and deploy. They’ve got cognitive radar. They’ve got magnetic resonance, all of these things that are next level. So that’s what we’re focused on and then there’s a video surveillance component, artificial intelligence-enabled.”

Cronin said advances in computer processing power as well as in antenna design, much of it driven by the cell phone industry, make it possible to deploy a system like PatScan “at a size and form factor that works for these environments and at a cost that makes it accessible.”

“We designed everything to be very cost effective and accessible,” he said. “Most of these venues already have got extensive closed-circuit television networks. We would take a feed from those, so there’s no need to invest in new cameras, and put it through a dedicated server, because there’s some pretty intense processing that goes on. So there’s the cost of the server, which is less than $20,000, and then you’ve got a software license on each camera, which would work out as about $1,000 a year per camera. We’re not talking about a massive outlay to have this capability and then for the other types of sensors which we can put inside planter pots, or advertising boxes or other signage, again you’re talking about generally less than $20,000. It just depends on the specifications and exactly what people are putting in. So, we’re not talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars to equip a venue with these technologies.”

After a site security audit and a check for needed lighting or camera angle adjustments and the like, “it’s just loading up the software and away you go,” Cronin said, adding that the process takes a matter of days.

The system’s user interface, dubbed Assist View, works by using algorithms to sift through images and other data and then “flag up to a human operator” areas of concern.

“We’re believers in AI assisting good human decision making, rather than replacing humans,” Cronin said. “There’s always a risk with any technology that there can be a mistake, so what we do is we flag things up to humans to ultimately make the assessment on what’s appropriate.”

Lau says the threat detection space is evolving and more players, like current Patriot One competitor Evolve Security Automation, will enter the field as it develops.

“But in the main, other companies are really sort of building the better metal detector,” Cronin said. “They’re still talking about fixed visible security checkpoints, and obviously there’s a place for that. Our approach is to make security more seamless and invisible, to not have to have human security personnel at every point where you’re screening people but instead to automate the process and send the alerts to central command post so that you can be more efficient about the deployment of your security resources, but also to give the public or if it’s in a sports venue, fans, a better experience where they’re not having to remove their keys and cell phones and everything else. You can still scan them for the presence of weapons and immediately get notification of an incident occurring. From our perspective it’s about better information for security but a better experience for the public as well. Those two things are usually not well aligned, but that’s our vision and I think in that respect we’re fairly unique.”

Making the live experience as frictionless as possible is especially crucial as off-site options became increasingly attractive, Cronin said.

“The fan experience is going to get better and better at remote sites. The home experience is going to get better, the experience in bars and what have you, and if it becomes just a real pain to go into a stadium, there is a risk that people stop coming. Security can’t be just sort of a zero-sum game. There are compromises that have to be had and so I think approaching it in a way where you try and align the fan experience with the security requirements gives you the chance to keep people coming in the long term.”