hexwave pearson airport

Toronto airport to start using Artificial Intelligence to detect weapons on airline passengers

Artificial intelligence could soon make getting through security at Canada's busiest international airport a bit easier (or a bit creepier, depending on how you look at it) for passengers who aren't carrying weapons.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which operates Pearson International Airport, confirmed this morning that a technology called Hexwave will be in use at the airport by the spring of 2020.

Developed by scientists at MIT, Hexwave uses 3D imaging and machine learning to "scan crowds for weapons without the need for dedicated security checkpoints."

In other words, this all-seeing AI system can look for and spot weapons ranging from guns and knives to improvised explosives on anyone, anywhere, without forcing them to stop and be scanned.

It's a revolutionary system that could one day be used across major entertainment venues, schools, hotels, public transit systems and outdoor pedestrian locations, according to Vancouver's Liberty Defense Technologies, which owns the exclusive license for Hexwave.

First, however, it's being tested in places such as the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Vancouver's Rogers Arena, Camden Yards in Baltimore, 150 American malls and the entire State of Utah.

"Public and private spaces can be secured without disrupting the flow of everyday life," writes Liberty Defense of the system. "It detects threats in the form of traditional and improvised weapons, both metallic and non-metallic."

"It's fast, direct, and non-intrusive, protecting the privacy and modesty of those being scanned while offering an unprecedented level of security."

Pearson is the latest venue to sign on as beta testing site for Hexwave, though exact plans for the pilot project are still in development.

The airport authority's director of corporate safety and security, Dwayne MacIntosh, told the Canadian Press that Hexwave units "will be deployed just outside airport terminals in order to pick up on potential threats before they get inside" starting this spring.

The Hexwave system will not replace existing airport security features at Pearson, but can be integrated with them to trigger emergency responses based on detected threats.

When asked about any privacy concerns that could arise from the implementation of another mass surveillance tool in a public space, Liberty Defense said that its radar technology cannot recognize facial features, and thus does not pose any threat to public privacy.

Still, experts say that that an independent privacy audit is necessary to ensure that the system cannot capture or store identifying information.

Whether that happens before the pilot project is rolled out at Pearson (if ever) remains to be seen.

Lead photo by

Liberty Defense

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