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Virginia Pilots Weapon-Detection System at State Capitol

The new technology, which can scan crowds and uses artificial intelligence to identify hidden weapons, is going to be beta tested in multiple places across the country, including the Virginia State Capitol Complex.

Liberty Defense, a company that specializes in threat-detection solutions, has continued to partner with law enforcement agencies across the country in testing its HEXWAVE weapon-detection technology. 

This week the company announced a collaborative partnership with the Virginia Division of Capitol Police, which will allow it to beta test its product at the Virginia State Capitol Complex early next year. 

HEXWAVE, the technology for which was originally developed by scientists with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) national security-oriented Lincoln Labs, scans clothing and bags in areas of high pedestrian foot traffic to identify potentially dangerous weapons. The technology also has the potential to be installed covertly inside everyday structures like walls and walkways as clandestine surveillance devices. Artificial intelligence assists with weapons identification. 

The beta testing will likely take place for a week next spring at the 12-acre capitol campus in downtown Richmond, said Joseph Macenka, public information officer with the Virginia Division of Capitol Police.  

"It's a busy place and it's easy to get in and out of, so we need to be as vigilant as we can," said Macenka, speaking with Government Technology.  

Earlier this year, Liberty Defense announced a large partnership with the Utah Attorney General's Office that allows its product to be tested in a wide variety of settings, including places of worship, event venues and government buildings. But the company has also developed testing partnerships in places as far flung as Canada and Germany as part of its product development process.  

Bill Riker, CEO of Liberty Defense, said in an interview that the partnership in Richmond would be a unique opportunity for his company to learn about deployment, incorporating the experience into evolving product design. 

"Virginia is a very progressive state in terms of business and it stays on the forefront of technology," he said. "They are in the process of upgrading multiple facilities in the Capitol and are recognizing [this as an opportunity] to capitalize on one of the most evolving technologies that would be ideal [for security]." 

The product’s appeal, Riker said, was its ability to both augment and perhaps someday replace current forms of facility security. 

“We’re really on the front end of where this can go,” said Riker, describing the technology as “operationally agile.”

“We are developing a system that can be universally applied across a multitude of markets. ... Small footprint, indoors or outdoors, overt or covert,” he said. 

The interoperable potential of this device — its ability to be paired both with more traditional forms of surveillance and security management systems, while also augmenting security procedures for human operators — is what makes it such an exciting development, said Macenka.  

"We would love to be able to find something where weapons detection technology could be tied to building lockdown technology," he said. "If [a threat incident] does happen, we can take the human component out of it. If a weapon is detected then that would automatically trigger the lockdown of the building and that would prevent an active shooter situation." 

"You always want to be prepared for any eventuality," he added. "Doing this beta test is a good step in that direction." 

Lucas Ropek is a former staff writer for Government Technology.