The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate in the past month has awarded small contracts to two high-technology start-ups that have developed video analytics software for commercial applications with the goal to apply the technology to potential passenger self-screening systems at airport checkpoints.

The awards to Lauretta AI and Deep North are for just under $200,000 each and were made through S&T’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP), which taps into commercial research and development companies that have developed technology with potential government applications and rapidly award them contracts.

In late 2019, S&T, working with the Transportation Security Administration, initiated an effort aimed at exploring the development of passenger self-screening portals or kiosks, giving travelers space to divest certain carry-on items while they are being screened to save time, and enhance security and the screening experience.

The self-screening effort has matured beyond a concept and now S&T is hoping to make awards in the coming months to companies for entire system concepts that could ultimately lead to designing, developing and potentially prototyping integrated self-screening prototypes in the next two to four years, John Fortune, S&T’s program manager for the Screening at Speed program, told Defense Daily in an interview last week. Any awards here will be through a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) S&T issued last summer.

The recent awards to California-based Deep North and Singapore-based Lauretta AI are separate from the self-screening BAA and were made through an SVIP solicitation seeking technologies to respond to and mitigate impacts from COVID-19. S&T is working through Lauretta AI’s U.S. office in Massachusetts.

Fortune said the smart video algorithms the companies have developed could be used to enforce social distancing between passengers to strengthen public health safety and also enable the self-screening systems developed by other vendors. These analytics can be used to provide cues for people that need help and also ensure that they comply with the required procedures as they are screened, he said.

In earlier responses to information requests and the BAA for self-screening, Fortune said “one of the things we weren’t necessarily seeing through our other channels were how was this whole thing going to be refereed? How to run the system? How are we going to make sure the people are queued up and are gong in in an appropriate fashion and how are we making sure if they’re struggling then maybe there’s a cue to a Transportation Security Officer to come give an assist?”

Deep North and Lauretta AI both use artificial intelligence technology to anonymously monitor people. S&T said that Deep North’s technology has been commercially successful in the travel and telecommunications industries and Lauretta AI’s with the airline, real estate, construction and retail sectors.

Fortune said that the investments in self-screening, regardless of what is ultimately developed, could benefit other portions of the Screening at Speed program and “vice-versa,” pointing out that the projects he’s overseeing are not siloed from one another.