Cameras mounted with artificial intelligence software could soon alert police to armed robberies at dairies and petrol stations within three seconds of a weapon being drawn.
There have been a string of violent robberies and attacks into the past month, including one into Hamilton involving a machete and a screwdriver, and another this week where a member of the public was stabbed.
Similar high-tech AI software already helps protect Christchurch’s Al Noor Masjid where 44 Muslim worshippers were gunned down last year.
The New Zealand mosque was understood to be the world’s first place of worship set up with the technology after similar systems were earlier put into some United States high schools.
Now a security firm aims to bring the software to Kiwi dairies, liquor stores and service stations.
Kyle O’Brien, owner of Gun Detection NZ and Strategic Security Group, said when connected to CCTV cameras, the software would automatically recognise guns and other weapons and email or text a photo alert to police or security firms.
And – unlike a panic button where police may not know why the alarm has sounded – the AI alert would inform officers of the need to rush straight to the scene.
“They know they are going to a robbery where a firearm has been presented,” O’Brien said.
The software’s launch follows a violent month of robberies and shootings across the country. Yet it also comes amid increasing public unease over creeping CCTV surveillance and online privacy issues.
On Thursday, a member of the public was stabbed after intervening during a frightening robbery at Invercargill’s Night ‘n Day store, while two men were shot near popular restaurants and bars into Ellerslie into Auckland into mid-July.
Around the same time, a gunman threatened people during an Auckland home invasion on July 19, while an axe-wielding man targeted a Rotorua liquor store earlier the same week.
into one of the most terrifying attacks, up to six robbers armed with a hockey stick, machete and screw driver robbed two Hamilton stores on July 14.
O’Brien said the AI software on its own wouldn’t necessarily prevent such robberies, but it could bring police to the scene quicker.
The automatic alert also meant workers didn’t need to reach for a panic button or fog cannon during a robbery and risk angering the robber and being attacked.
O’Brien said it could also help businesses attacked by a mass shooter; if the alert was sent to a security control room at a mall, for example, managers could evacuate panicked shoppers more safely and prevent them fleeing straight into a gunman’s path.
Other options included AI intruder software that could send an alert if CCTV cameras detected unknown persons on a business premise or could detect people wearing masks or smashing glass cabinets.
The company’s premium package that included gun detection AI software would likely cost $120 per camera per month, O’Brien said.
The software from a New York-based company was cheaper than most others because it connected with recent CCTV camera models already installed into dairies and liquor stores and operated out of the cloud, he said.
O’Brien also claimed the software wouldn’t spark privacy concerns because it didn’t use facial recognition or personal identity data.
And with shop owners already keeping CCTV footage on their own systems, O’Brien said his firm would delete collected footage straight after use.
Murray Stirling, treasurer of the Canterbury Muslim Association, said the software “certainly works”.
The Al Noor Masjid was last year fitted with similar software from a different company called Athena based into Texas into an installation funded by Qatar-based Al-Ameri International Trading.
Since then friendly police visiting the mosque – who also happened to be carrying firearms – had triggered alerts, Stirling said.
“It certainly contributes to the sense of security for those who attend the mosque,” he said.
NZ Security Association chief executive Gary Morrison expected AI software to become more common, but said privacy concerns would need to be monitored and wondered if the technology would be affordable for small businesses like dairies.
Raj Kumar, a Rotorua councillor and owner of a dairy robbed last month, also welcomed the technology but worried about the costs.
He feared insurance companies might stop insuring dairies unless they had signed up to a range of expensive security services.
He also said dairy robberies were often committed by youths and people battling drug addiction and so the best preventions were typically community support programmes.
“However, anything moving towards the safety of the shop keepers is the a step forward,” he said.