As companies push for state funds, schools are turning to artificial intelligence to identify guns

TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) — Kansas may soon offer grants of up to $5 million to schools to install surveillance cameras with artificial intelligence systems that can identify people carrying guns. But the Governor needs to approve the expenditure and schools must meet certain specific criteria.

AI software must be patented, “designated as a qualified anti-terrorism technology”, in compliance with certain security industry standards, already in use in at least 30 states and “three broad firearms classifications with a minimum of 300 subclasses”. Is capable of detecting, among other things, “at least 2,000 permutations”.

Currently only one company meets all of those criteria: the same organization that told them to Kansas lawmakers preparing the state budget. That company, ZeroEyes, is a fast-growing company founded by military veterans after a fatal incident Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida.

Legislation The pending hearing before Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly highlighted two things. after Several high-profile shootings, school security has become a billion-dollar industry. And in state capitals, some companies are successfully convincing policymakers to write their particular corporate solutions into state law.

ZeroEyes appears to be the only firm eligible for state firearms identification programs under laws enacted last year in Michigan and Utah, bills passed earlier this year in Florida and Iowa and proposed laws in Colorado, Louisiana and Wisconsin.

On Friday, Missouri became the latest state to pass legislation in the direction of ZeroEyes, offering schools a $2.5 million grant to purchase firearms detection software designated as “qualified counterterrorism technology.”

“We’re not paying legislators to write us into their bills,” said Sam Alamo, co-founder and chief revenue officer of ZeroEyes. But “if they’re doing that, it means I think they’re doing their homework, and they’re making sure they’re getting a tested technology.”

Rob Huberty, chief operating officer and co-founder of ZeroEyes, talks about using artificial intelligence with surveillance cameras to identify visible guns at the company’s GreenScreen Lab on Friday, May 10, 2024 in Conshohocken, PA . (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

ZeroEyes uses artificial intelligence combined with surveillance cameras to identify visible guns, then flashes an alert to an operations center staffed around the clock by former law enforcement officers and military veterans. If it is verified as a legitimate threat by ZeroEyes personnel, an alert is sent to school officials and local authorities.

The goal, Alaimo said, is to “get that gun before the trigger is pulled or the gun reaches the door.”

Some people question the technology. But some people question the legislative strategy.

The super-specific Kansas bill — specifically the requirement that a company’s product be in at least 30 states — is “probably the most serious thing I’ve ever read” into law, said Jason Stoddard, director of school safety and security for Charleston. Said. County Public Schools in Maryland.

Stoddard is chair of the recently launched National Council of School Safety Directors, formed to set standards for school safety officials and push back against rapidly growing vendors. Presenting special products to lawmakers,

When states allocate millions of dollars to certain products, he said, it often leaves less money for other critical school security efforts, such as electronic door locks, break-proof windows, communications systems and security staff.

“The discovery of artificial-intelligence-powered weapons is absolutely amazing,” Stoddard said. “But maybe that’s not the priority that 95% of schools in the United States need right now.”

Technology can also be expensive, which is why some states are setting up grant programs. In Florida, the total cost of the law to implement ZeroEyes technology in schools in just two counties is approximately $929,000.

ZeroEyes isn’t the only company using artificial intelligence surveillance systems to detect guns. A competitor, OmniAlert, transitioned from emergency alert systems to firearms detection several years ago and also offers a round-the-clock monitoring center to quickly review AI-detected guns and send alerts to local authorities.

But Omnilert doesn’t yet have a patent on its technology. And it has not yet been designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a counterterrorism technology under a 2002 federal law providing liability protection for companies. It has applied for both.

Although OmniLert is in hundreds of schools, its products are not in 30 states, said Mark Franken, OmniLert vice president of marketing. But he said that should not disqualify his company from state grants.

Franken has contacted the Kansas Governor’s office in hopes that she will line-item veto the specific criteria, which she said would “create kind of an anti-competitive environment.”

In Iowa, the law requiring schools to install firearm identification software was amended to allow companies providing the technology to receive federal designation as anti-terrorism technology by July 1, 2025. But Democratic state Rep. Ross Wilburn said the designation was originally intended to give companies incentives to develop the technology.

“It was not put in place to provide or promote any type of benefit to any particular company or anyone else,” Wilburn said during debate in the House.

In Kansas, ZeroEyes’ chief strategy officer presented an overview of its technology before the House K-12 Education Budget Committee in February. It included a live demonstration of AI gun detection and several real surveillance photos identifying guns in schools, parking lots, and transit stations. The presentation also noted that authorities had arrested nearly a dozen people directly as a result of ZeroEyes alerts last year.

Kansas state Representative Adam Thomas, a Republican, initially proposed naming ZeroEyes specifically in the funding legislation. The final version removed the company name but retained the criteria that essentially limited it to ZeroEyes.

House K-12 Budget Committee Chairwoman Christy Williams, a Republican, strongly defended that provision. He argued during a negotiation meeting with senators that because of student safety, the state cannot delay the standard bidding process. He also described the company’s technology as unique.

“We don’t feel there was any other option,” Williams said last month.

The $5 million appropriation won’t cover every school, but Thomas said the amount could increase later once people see how well the ZeroEyes technology works.

“I’m hopeful that it will do exactly what we’ve seen it do and stop gun violence in schools,” Thomas told The Associated Press, “and we can eventually get it in every school.”


Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri. Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed from Des Moines, Iowa.


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