Three startups developing technologies with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP) successfully transitioned their products to DHS and the Homeland Security Enterprise in 2018.
These three transitions are the first to come from SVIP, a program designed to connect DHS with startups and small businesses to seek innovative solutions for the most pressing threats facing the homeland security mission and to rapidly and effectively expand the range of technologies available to the Homeland Security Enterprise. DHS S&T launched the program in December 2015.
“By engaging with small businesses and startups, S&T has gained access to the previously inaccessible, cutting-edge innovations available in the commercial market,” said William N. Bryan, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary of Science and Technology. “Each of the companies transitioning technologies developed innovative solutions that address real and pressing challenges faced by DHS. They have put in hard work, and S&T is proud to announce these successful transitions.”
All three companies transitioned their technologies into U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operations. It is no coincidence that CBP was the first component to procure or integrate SVIP performer technologies—it was the first operational component to collaborate with SVIP on the development of a topic call for new technologies. SVIP closely collaborates with DHS components to develop topic calls to ensure new projects accurately address operational needs.
“CBP partnered with DHS S&T to expand our innovation ecosystem by engaging with startup companies through the Silicon Valley Innovation Program,” said CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. “These successful transitions demonstrate CBP’s goal of delivering innovative and cutting-edge technologies that enhance the effectiveness of our border security operations and the safety of our frontline personnel.”
Tamr (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Tamr was one of CBP’s “charter class” of initial companies under SVIP and was the first SVIP project to transition to CBP use.
First awarded by SVIP in December 2016, Tamr received its award to enhance the Global Traveler Assessment System (GTAS), a non-proprietary computer application available to partner countries that provide the capability to screen foreign travelers. CBP developed GTAS in accordance with UN Resolution 2178 to combat foreign terrorist fighters by using industry-regulated traveler information. Tamr’s software allows for improved entity resolution—the analysis of multiple datasets to determine matches between entities, datasets and possible relationships—within GTAS. This technology is now fully incorporated into the system.
Tamr’s capability lives within the core GTAS application and helps users sort through data that appears to be the same, but are, in fact, different—a common challenge in the dynamic travel environment. In addition to the integrated code, Tamr also offers a free GTAS-specific license for additional functionality and a customization feature as an optional payable service. These additional offerings are available in the commercial marketplace, making Tamr the first SVIP portfolio company to commercialize their work.
Echodyne Corp. (Kirkland, Washington)
Another member of the charter class, Echodyne was first awarded by SVIP in December 2016. Echodyne Corp. created the Metamaterial Electronically Scanning Array (MESA) radar system. This system uses metamaterials—engineered, artificial materials with properties not found in nature—to build a new architecture for an all-electronic scanning radar system. The use of metamaterials means MESA has significantly lower cost, size, weight and power-usage than other radar systems.
The compact, lightweight MESA radar units have the potential for multiple applications in a variety of border security scenarios. CBP procured a pilot quantity of MESA radar units and intends to test their efficacy in two programs and evaluate them for the ability to improve border situational awareness.
In addition to this testing, Echodyne’s solution is currently being used as the primary detection and cueing component on autonomous surveillance towers currently deployed in the San Diego Sector . These towers are being piloted with the potential of incorporation into border surveillance programs.
Following additional testing, CBP has considered procuring additional radar units over the next three years. Echodyne’s work could directly support both land and maritime enforcement systems, a transition made possible through the partnership between CBP and SVIP.
DataRobot, Inc. (Boston, Massachusetts)
DataRobot was originally awarded in September of 2017 and is the youngest of the SVIP projects to transition. This year, CBP procured pilot licenses of DataRobot’s capability for the GTAS. DataRobot applied automated machine learning (AML) to GTAS to expedite the development of predictive models.
Currently, the time required to develop predictive models places those models at risk of being outdated before they are completed. By applying AML to this development process, DataRobot is able to produce models faster and more accurately. AML is also easier to use than traditional machine learning—it can automatically complete complex tasks while simplifying the user experience.
DataRobot’s technology is now being used to help CBP conduct the counter-narcotics mission, identify ways to improve the facilitation of lawful trade and travel, and develop and test synthetics datasets to further spur CBP innovation.
“These transitions are proof of the power of collaboration between DHS and startups and between SVIP and operational components like CBP,” said Melissa Oh, SVIP Managing Director. “With dozens more companies currently in the program, we can expect more transitions in 2019.”