Aegis AI is the brainchild of Sonny Tai (Chicago Booth ’15), who grew up in South Africa and fled to the United States with his family after experiencing persistent gun violence. Through the Booth network, he met Ben Ziomek (Chicago Booth ’19) and the two co-founded Aegis AI to create software that employs computer vision to automatically detect weapons in security camera feeds. I sat down with Ben to learn about the company’s trajectory and plans for the future.
A Company Born Out of Deeply Personal Experiences with Gun Violence
Before moving to the U.S., Sonny Tai, Aegis AI CEO and Co-Founder, grew up in South Africa, where gun homicide rates are 4x that of Chicago’s. Thus, Sonny’s childhood was spent living under the constant shadow of gun violence. His early childhood experiences informed his decision to eventually join the U.S. Marine Corps and pursue a lifelong passion of reducing gun violence related deaths. Despite fleeing to the U.S. with his family to avoid the violence they experienced, Sonny still recognized that there were deadly mass shootings in the U.S.
“How is it that the most innovative country in the world hasn’t been able to solve the issue of gun violence?”
– Sonny Tai, Co-Founder and CEO
Upon graduating Booth, Sonny went on to work as a strategy consultant at Accenture, but continued thinking about how he could address this issue that was so personal to him. He researched how technology could save lives during active shooter events and set out to start a company to realize his vision. Through the Booth network, Sonny met Ben, who previously led engineering and data science teams to leverage AI for sales and marketing at Microsoft. Together, they launched Aegis AI, a software solution that automatically identifies firearms through real-time security camera feeds, then notifies law enforcement and provides early warning to building occupants in active shooter situations.
Software for Easy Integration and Adoption
Aegis AI is the first company to offer weapon detection in a software solution. This means that it can easily be integrated into any existing security network. Aegis AI chose to offer a software solution rather than a physical camera with the software built in, knowing how difficult it would be to garner customer adoption and overhaul existing security systems. Instead, the AI software analyzes security video feeds that are uploaded to a cloud infrastructure. It’s amazing that this technology can be deployed without any installation required.
The software has reached 99% accuracy in 5 seconds of video, which is impressive because speed and accuracy is essential in active shooter situations. Each minute sooner that a weapon can be detected and authorities can arrive on the scene is a chance for more lives to be saved. A study of 35 active shooter incidents that occurred in 2012 found that 37% ended in less than five minutes and 63% in less than 15 minutes. As time is of the essence, Aegis AI’s technology allows earlier responses – security teams on the premises will be informed of the exact location of the shooter and be provided with information on the situation. Aegis AI can also help security team alert the authorities (within 5 seconds of weapon detection) and provide law enforcement with live updates and information to help inform their decisions and actions upon arrival at the scene.
“We can detect a weapon before a trigger is pulled.”
– Ben Ziomek, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer
Security and Weapon Detection Landscape
The global threat detection systems market is expected to reach $119 billion by 2022 according to various studies. While this estimate includes solutions being served by large defense companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, there is room for smaller players. Ben categorizes its competition in 3 areas:
Other computer based systems
Gunshot detection system
Microwave object detection
Athena security is the closest competitor to Aegis AI, but it is unclear whether the company has successfully completed any live demos and it uses a hardware based approach. In the gunshot detection category, Shotspotter is a leader and uses acoustic sensors to detect gunshots. This is less preventative than Aegis AI and solutions in the other two categories, as lives may be in danger when a shot has already been fired. The 3 category of microwave detection is fairly experimental, as it involves embedding the walls of buildings with object detection technology (akin to a metal detector).
Early Traction with Schools and Untapped Future Market Potential
Although publication transportation hubs, concert venues and other large event spaces are likely customers of Aegis, the company has found early success with schools, another natural customer segment. Within education, Aegis AI estimates that the U.S. market for threat detection software is $1.56 billion.
It’s first two customers that have been piloting the technology is a private school in Chicago and a school district in Seattle. With a flat fee per month for the first camera and a price that scales down to as low as $20 a month per camera, Aegis AI is able to capture economies of scale with processing more frames per customer if the customer has multiple cameras in its security system deployed across its facilities.
For its current customer segment, school systems that have budget constraints, pricing is key. Compared to its competitors like the Liberty defense system or Shotspotter, Aegis AI’s software can be deployed for as little as $10,000 per building, whereas its competitors will cost 5-10x that.
“Every school in America should have this.”
– Education Customers’ Feedback
Through their interactions with other schools and educators, the Aegis AI team are confident that their solution resonates with educators. Furthermore, they have come to understand that because their solution does not require investments in new technology or installation, schools can usually find a way to pay for initial deployment of a system like Aegis AI within their building budget for maintenance and security.
In the future, the company plans to expand their technology to large-scale infrastructure facilities (i.e. airports, train and subway stations), which has an estimated market spend on security of $600 million. Finally, there is also commercial use in office buildings and malls, which represents a $2.7 billion market.
Looking Ahead for Future Growth
While Aegis AI has refined its current product offering to be attractive to its current customer segment, it is also looking ahead at different customer segment needs and developing for the future. The team would like to be able to also incorporate facial recognition to aid in the process of identifying the individual with the weapon and be able to provide authorities with updated locations of the person and weapon as the shooter moves. A mobile app dashboard and building management features are also new features for consideration as the team continues to focus on customer segmentation and identifying different needs.
Originally backed by the University of Chicago and Metaprop, Aegis AI recently also recently secured funding from First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund. The team has just been accepted to participate in the 2019 Chicago Booth New Venture Challenge, which is recognized as one of the top-ranked accelerator programs in the nation. We wish them the best of luck over the next few months as the team gears up for a final pitch day in May for the opportunity to win prizes of up to $200,000.