SEPTA ends ZeroEyes pilot program that was supposed to help detect guns

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Friday, March 22, 2024
SEPTA ends AI pilot program that was supposed to help to detect guns
SEPTA ends ZeroEyes pilot program that was supposed to help to detect guns

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- SEPTA has ended a year-long pilot program that implemented artificial intelligence gun detection software.

The software was created by Conshohocken-based, ZeroEyes, which utilized SEPTA station cameras to help the software detect the presence of a gun on SEPTA property and then alert officials after human confirmation.

The pilot program was supposed to help reduce the likelihood of gun violence on SEPTA's system, but according to ZeroEyes, there were issues from the start.

"We didn't realize at the time, but the security infrastructure at SEPTA, it's archaic, it's old," said Sam Alaimo, co-founder of ZeroEyes.

According to Alaimo, the pilot program primarily utilized SEPTA cameras posted in stations and platforms along both the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines.

He said the issue was many of those cameras were analog devices that weren't necessarily compatible with the A.I. software that was created to function with up-to-date digital cameras.

"The challenge of getting our software to work on cameras that were so grainy that even with the naked eye you could barely tell it was a gun," Alaimo said.

When we spoke to Andrew Busch, SEPTA's spokesperson, he pushed back at the notion that the security infrastructure was outdated. He said the pilot program with ZeroEyes was utilized on about one percent of the transit agency's 31,000 cameras, which are a mix of analog and digital devices.

"SEPTA's camera system is not outdated," Busch said. "We do have a great robust system of surveillance cameras."

In an attempt to troubleshoot, ZeroEyes said it tried to create an algorithm that worked exclusively with analog cameras. But when the software still wouldn't work up to standard, both sides agreed they weren't comfortable implementing it.

Busch said once SEPTA analyzed the pilot program, it felt that the technology wasn't something SEPTA and its transit officers needed at the time and decided to move on. Instead, the transit agency moved to reappropriate a nearly $5 million state grant to pay for officer overtime, new cameras and unspecified technology.

"We continue to need funding to add officers, equipment so, adding more cameras, upgrading the ones that we have. Those are areas that we could always use resources," said Busch.

During the month of March, at least a dozen people were shot on or near SEPTA property, including teenagers who were involved in shootings in the city's Ogontz and Burholme neighborhoods.

SEPTA riders we spoke to told Action News more security was an immediate need, but they were split on whether the gun detection software was the answer to the issue.

David Johnson said he was more concerned about seeing more transit officers on buses and train platforms, calling the ZeroEyes pilot program "a waste of money."

Meanwhile, others said they would love to see more technology "integrated into the transit system."

Both SEPTA and ZeroEyes said they were open to working together again in the future. For now, SEPTA said it would utilize patrols and surveillance monitoring to keep its system safe for its customers.