canada africa partner reservation Schools are turning to artificial intelligence to track weapons as companies push lawmakers for state funds

Schools are turning to artificial intelligence to track weapons as companies push lawmakers for state funds


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas could soon offer up to $5 million in grants to schools to equip surveillance cameras with artificial intelligence systems that can spot people carrying weapons.

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas could soon offer up to $5 million in grants to schools to equip surveillance cameras with artificial intelligence systems that can spot people carrying weapons. But the governor must approve the spending and the schools must meet some very specific criteria.

The AI ​​software must be patented, “designated as a qualified anti-terrorism technology,” in accordance with certain security industry standards, already in use in at least 30 states and capable of detecting “three broad firearm classifications with a minimum of 300 subclassifications” and “at least 2,000 permutations”, among others.

Only one company currently meets all of these criteria: the same organization that touted them to Kansas lawmakers who write the state budget. That company, ZeroEyes, is a fast-growing company founded by military veterans after the fatal shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

The legislation pending before Kansas Governor Laura Kelly highlights two things. After numerous high-profile shootings, school security has become a multibillion-dollar industry. And in state capitals, some companies are successfully convincing policymakers to enact their specific business solutions into state laws.

ZeroEyes also appears to be the only company qualified for state firearms detection programs under laws passed last year in Michigan and Utah, bills passed earlier this year in Florida and Iowa and legislation proposed in Colorado, Louisiana and Wisconsin.

On Friday, Missouri became the latest state to pass legislation targeting ZeroEyes, offering $2.5 million in matching grants to schools to purchase firearm detection software designated as “qualified counterterrorism technology.”

“We don’t pay legislators to write us into their bills,” said Sam Alaimo, ZeroEyes co-founder and chief revenue officer. But “if they do, it means I think they’re doing their homework, and they are. We make sure they get vetted technology.”

ZeroEyes uses artificial intelligence with surveillance cameras to identify visible weapons and then sends an alert to an operations center staffed 24 hours a day by former law enforcement officers and military veterans. If ZeroEyes staff deems it a legitimate threat, an alert will be sent to school officials and local authorities.

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

Few doubt the technology. But some question the legislative tactics.

The super-specific Kansas bill — specifically the requirement that a company have its product in at least 30 states — is “probably the most egregious thing I’ve ever read” in legislation, said Jason Stoddard, director of school safety and security for Charles. County Public Schools in Maryland.

Stoddard is chairman of the newly formed National Council of School Safety Directors, which was created to set standards for school safety officers and to resist vendors who are increasingly pitching certain products to lawmakers.

When states allocate millions of dollars for certain products, that often leaves less money for other important school safety efforts, such as electronic door locks, shatterproof windows, communications systems and security personnel, he said.

“The AI-powered weapon detection is absolutely amazing,” Stoddard said. “But it’s probably not the priority that 95% of schools in the United States need right now.”

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

ZeroEyes isn’t the only company using artificial intelligence surveillance systems to spot weapons. One competitor, Omnilert, switched from emergency alert systems to firearms detection several years ago and also offers 24-hour monitoring centers to quickly assess AI-detected weapons and relay alerts to local officials.

But Omnilert does not 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 that provides companies with liability protection. An application has been submitted for both.

Although Omnilert is in hundreds of schools, its products are not in 30 states, said Mark Franken, Omnilert’s vice president of marketing. But he said this should not disqualify his company from state subsidies.

Franken has contacted the Kansas governor’s office in hopes that she will veto the specific criteria, which he says “creates some kind of anti-competitive environment.”

In Iowa, legislation requiring schools to install firearm detection software was changed so that companies that provide the technology will receive federal designation as anti-terrorism technology until July 1, 2025. But Democratic state Rep. Ross Wilburn said the designation was originally intended as an incentive for companies to develop technology.

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

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

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

House K-12 Budget Committee Chairman Kristey Williams, a Republican, strongly defended that provision. She argued during a negotiating meeting with senators that the state could not afford the delays of a standard bidding process for student safety. She also called the company’s technology unique.

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

The $5 million credit 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 does exactly what we saw it do: prevent gun violence in schools,” Thomas told The Associated Press, “and we can eventually get it into every school.”


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

David A. Lieb and John Hanna, The Associated Press