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Blue Springs company using facial recognition and AI to improve school security

Posted at 5:41 AM, Oct 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-16 08:29:31-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A Blue Springs man says he has a way to use artificial intelligence and facial recognition software to better protect children at schools. 

The system is called Cover 3. Rob Constantinou said government defense contractors originally designed it as an airport security program. After the school shooting Parkland, Florida last year, Constantinou worked with the contractors to modify the program to fit schools. 

Constantinou grew up in the same Pennsylvania town as Chris Hixon, the athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Hixon was one of the 17 people who died in the February 2017 shooting at the school. 

Cover 3 focuses on three aspects: monitor, analyze and notify. 

Constantinou explained each step: First, security cameras use facial recognition to identify people against a database of pictures schools input. Second, the system analyzes the pictures to determine if any of the people in them aren’t supposed to be on campus — if they’re a student who is suspended that day, or if they are on a sexual predator list, for example. Third, the system notifies the school of any potential issues. 

The school resource officer receives an immediate alert via cellphone that includes a picture of the potential threat. That officer can use a cellphone app to activate a lockdown or determine how else to respond. 

Constantinou said the system uses artificial intelligence to learn what a gun looks like or notice suspicious behavior, like someone wearing a trench coat when it’s 95 degrees outside. It then sends alerts to the school as it picks up on those items.

Some might argue this kind of smart surveillance violates personal privacy.  

“If a camera making sure that a person doesn't get in is a little intrusive, I'm OK with that because I'm picking my son up and the end of the day and he's coming home with me,” Constantinou said. 

Developers of the system admit it can lead to false alarms based on the number of alerts it can send to schools. But they argue schools can learn from those false alarms and fine-tune their individual systems.

“If there's false alarms and those false alarms are keeping my kid safe, I'm OK with that. We can get better at learning what's a false alarm and not, but I'd rather be on the side of caution when it comes to this than to not have anything in place at all,” Constantinou said.

The cost of Cover 3 varies depending on the size of a school. But in nearly every case, Constantinou said it costs about the same as, if not less than, hiring another school resource officer — roughly $39,000 a year. 

Cover 3 is brand new. So far, it is working on a trial program for a college system in Texas. A spokesperson said Cover 3 is in talks with school districts in the Kansas City area, South Carolina and Florida.