Toronto

New technology used to detect weapons coming to Toronto's Pearson airport

Canada's largest airport will soon be getting artificial intelligence-powered technology to detect weapons.

Company says technology doesn't pose privacy risks, but some are still skeptical

Toronto's Pearson International airport will be testing the new Hexwave technology next Spring. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Canada's busiest airport will soon start to use artificial intelligence-powered technology to detect weapons.

The technology can detect both metallic and non-metallic weapons ranging from guns and knives to explosives, according to Liberty Defense Holdings Ltd., a Vancouver-based company which first marketed the technology.

Known as Hexwave, the technology works by capturing radar images, then using artificial intelligence to analyze them for concealed weapons in bags or under clothing. 

Liberty's CEO, Bill Riker explained, "radar ... essentially is emitting this form of energy, it's reflecting off a person and it's identifying any items on a person's body that don't belong on a body."

According to Riker, the technology doesn't pose privacy risks since it isn't able to recognize facial features, but some are skeptical.

This screenshot of a video from Liberty Defense details how the HEXWAVE security gates would be deployed to scan for weapons. (Liberty Defense)

Former Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian said that while Hexwave stands to serve a valuable purpose, she  would still like to see the technology undergo an independent privacy audit to ensure that the radar isn't able to capture or store identifying information.

Hexwave is designed to be used in crowded environments, said Riker, noting that the process of getting a radar image takes less than a quarter of a second.

The technology will start getting deployed at Pearson in the Spring of 2020 in a bid to boost security, according to the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which runs Pearson.

During a phone interview, Dwayne MacIntosh, who is the director of corporate safety and security for the authority said, "they were trying something that could give us a more definitive look at weapons and plastic explosives that may be coming into airports."

The technology will provide airport staff with a higher level of detail about potential threats, said MacIntosh.

One of the benefits of using the system is that it can be integrated with other airport security features and trigger responses based on what it picks up, said MacIntosh. Detection of certain weapons can automatically trigger doors to lock or sound specific alarms.

The Hexwave technology's antenna array and transceiver were originally developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Liberty devised its weapons-detection product shortly after gaining the licensing rights from MIT, said Riker.

While the system is still being looked at in the company's lab, it plans to take the next phase of its testing in public settings as of next Spring.

Pearson is not the only location interested in the technology — the Metro Toronto Convention Centre has also signed on as a test site.

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