AI for gun detection and false alarm reduction

SMART Surveillance 2023 Editor's Choice, Surveillance, Integrated Solutions, Security Services & Risk Management

Sonny Tai, CEO and co-founder of Actuate stopped by the SMART Security Solutions’ stand at Securex to tell us about the company, its history and what it can do to reduce the false alarm rate that plagues so many surveillance installations today, as well as its ability to detect weapons.

Tai is another American entrepreneur with links to South Africa. Born in Taiwan, his family moved to South Africa in 1993 where they stayed and he went to school until 1999, a period from which he still remembers a few rude Afrikaans expressions. They then moved to the USA where he completed his education and joined the Marine Corps. After his stint in the marines, he completed his MBA and joined the world of management consulting, only to find it wasn’t really where he belonged (being fired from Accenture helped him make that decision).

One of America’s unique characteristics is mass shootings. While these are increasingly happening in other countries too, America seems to be the epicentre of these senseless crimes with ‘active shooter’ incidents rising by over 96% since 2017. After doing some research, Tai realised that technology was now mature enough to assist in preventing mass shootings using gun detection algorithms.

With a co-founder on board, Actuate was born with the goal of using AI to detect weapons and provide early warnings of potential shootings. He says that in the initial stages of developing the software, his engineers were paid via PayPal, and he received no salary, keeping his head above water with a loan from his mother and a good friend. In late 2018, the technology was advanced enough to attract investors and Actuate received its first investment of just under $300 000, followed by another $600 000 and then further $2 million investment in mid-2019. Fast forward to May 2021 and the company, now focused on scaling its operations, received another $8 million investment.

A COVID interruption

Actuate soon had 20 US schools, testing their product with complimentary reviews, but then the COVID lockdowns hit, and Tai had to find another way for the company to stay relevant (and survive). Fortunately, the largest security provider in Puerto Rico approached Actuate with the idea of being able to detect people and vehicles automatically using its existing camera infrastructure, and the company expanded to include additional functionality. This company is still a customer, using Actuate AI to enhance its offsite monitoring service.

The offsite monitoring market in the US was quite immature at the time in terms of using video analytics and AI to enhance video verification services, and this was an opportunity that Actuate capitalised upon. Actuate is a cloud-based AI service that video monitoring companies can use to identify guns, people, vehicles, as well as offering intruder, loitering and crowd detection solutions. Other solutions in the pipeline at the time of writing include functionality such as hard hat and fire detection, and vehicle gate automation technology.

The company currently has around 1100 customers and Tai boasts that satisfied customers are the key focus of the company – it has never lost a customer. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, Actuate is focused on one product with various functions, which it obsesses over to continually improve.

This is borne out by the fact that it has its own engineering team and focusses on its own data labelling teams (data labelling is a key aspect in training machine learning models; hiring cheap resources in foreign countries to handle the task does not produce the quality required, which means the resulting services are of low quality).

Pure AI

Now that the company is focused on growth, it has partnered with local companies to make their offsite monitoring services more efficient. Tai adds that, while growth is naturally key for the company, his personal connection to South Africa also drives him to make a difference in the country and play a part in dealing with the high crime rate.

As a pure AI company, Actuate enhances businesses efficiency and improves its customers’ service to their clients. As a cloud-based system it requires no additional hardware to be installed and can deliver accurate results (with well over 90% false alarm detection rate) on a sample video at 480p and 2/3 fps. Privacy is also a key component of its service, so it doesn’t do facial recognition, but reacts to anomalies, successfully eliminating false positives (gun detection naturally requires better resolution).

Tai notes that in a school or business shooting scenario, the people doing the crime are generally known so facial recognition would not flag them as a threat. The AI recognises behaviours that are out of the norm and alerts the relevant operator in real time. The system is able to differentiate, for example, between those loitering with bad intentions from those who may be looking at an advert or product display.

The Actuate system can integrate with almost anything, including RTSP (Real Time Streaming Protocol) streams. A list of integrations with numerous platforms and brands can be found at

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, Tai sees Actuate evolving over time to ‘almost automate offsite monitoring’. This includes additional features such as automated voice response functionality in real time, although he says this is a long-term goal. In a world focused on privacy, Actuate may also offer identification services via opt in programmes, but he reiterates the hesitance to adopt facial recognition as so many others have done, because of the various global privacy regulations, as well as the increased resolution one needs to accurately identify people.

Another strength he believes will stand the company in good stead is hiring the right people, those who ‘believe in the mission’ of the company and want to make the world safer and more secure.

Find out more about Actuate at or contact the company at

Better insights, increased efficiency

In early 2020, the Genesis Security monitoring centre was facing an influx of false positive motion alerts. This high influx was costly and endangering the centre’s profitability, so Genesis sought an analytics partner that could reduce false positive alerts to focus on true threats. Actuate’s remote guarding and monitoring technology offered the most desirable solution to Genesis’ security challenges. The results achieved include:

• Reduced false positives: Actuate reduced false positives by 97%, enabling Genesis’ central station operators to monitor cameras more effectively.

• Increased savings: Actuate reduced the need for post-crime forensic analysis due to real-time detection, allowing for Genesis to pass cost savings to its customers.

• Minimised downtime: Actuate’s daily camera status report notified Genesis whenever a camera was offline or obstructed from view, effectively minimising system downtime.

• Improved insights: Actuate’s user-friendly dashboard made it possible for Genesis to quantify cost savings and provide enhanced security insights to customers.

Find out more at


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