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Catching up with James Stewart

Above: James Stewart, CEO of EhEye. Photo by Stephen MacGillivray Photography & Video. www.atwphoto.com

Next-level public safety using video surveillance enhanced by artificial intelligence  

We caught up with James Stewart, CEO of EhEye, after his recent visit to Halifax for the ACADA Defence Trends Symposium. Given the nature of its work – automating the detection of objects, persons, activities and behaviours of interest within streaming video, in real time and at scale – EhEye is now a member of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CANSEC). James and his team will soon be exploring innovations on a national level at the annual CANSEC event in Ottawa in early June (a defence industry event that showcases incredibly futuristic advancements).

When we asked James about the topic of innovation, here’s some of what he had to say: “I like to view innovation as creativity in action. Our work focuses on increasing public safety and security in an increasingly turbulent world. We are intent on staying innovative by balancing a focus on delivering what we need to satisfy our customers, while quickly exploring ever-evolving adjacent possibilities.”

Find out more below about EhEye, an innovator who inspires James on a daily basis, and the innovation James expects will make them a market leader in video surveillance.

 

James Stewart used to describe himself as a closet entrepreneur.

“I tried on a lot of ideas, working on prototypes and plans, but it didn’t get real until my job left the province,” says Stewart. “It’s easy to be all-in when that kind of thing happens to you.”

In the past year, he has dedicated his full-time effort to EhEye, an innovative video surveillance system that uses artificial intelligence to reveal anomalies in large amounts of footage.

This product is a natural extension of Stewart’s background. He has a PhD in computer science, has had a successful career as software engineer, worked for 13 years as an auxiliary police officer, and spent three-and-a-half years as a crime analyst.

“I knew I wanted to do something that combined data science and public safety,” says Stewart. “And I knew I wanted to be audacious.”

That’s where the artificial intelligence comes in.

“Artificial intelligence is a differentiator for us in a growing market,” says Stewart. “Picture a football stadium with 3,000 video cameras,” he explains. “Ingesting that amount of data and making sense of it is a huge challenge. It’s an obscene amount of computing.”

The EhEye system uses a type of artificial intelligence called computer vision to pick out behaviours of interest according to a set of rules.

“Doing that in a cost-effective way requires an efficient platform,” says Stewart. “Our Chief Technology Officer Shawn Mitchel is perhaps the best data engineer in Canada, and he makes that happen at scale. I’m fortunate to find inspiration within the EhEye team with Shawn. He’s a professional engineer who has never stopped learning. A 10-year veteran of Q1Labs, his technological knowledge and innovations leave me awestruck.”

Stewart’s system also uses artificial intelligence for special monitoring.

“It’s one thing to monitor for things you know – which is essentially pattern recognition,” says Stewart. “It’s another to monitor for things you’ve never seen before. That’s anomaly-based detection.”

Stewart explains that the challenge of anomaly detection is that unless you teach the system what normal looks like, everything is an anomaly, and the system is inundated by false positives.

“You have to set the context,” he says. “Using our system, you can define normal as say, a crowd moving through a stadium in one direction. Then an anomaly such as a single person moving in the opposite direction is easily revealed.”

The global video surveillance industry is a $71 Billion market and growing fast.

“There are pockets of competition where big agencies like the military and academic institutions, and heavy-hitters like IBM are combining video and AI technology,” says Stewart. “Then there are companies like ours. We are better equipped to innovate because of our size, and we can more easily address a niche market like public safety.”

Stewart credits EhEye’s big data platform as the innovation moving his company forward. “Shawn is putting his heart and soul into the EhEye ingestion platform that enables us to manage absolutely massive amounts of data for our analytical modules,” he says. “The flexibility and sophistication that he is building allows us to confidently stand beside anyone in our industry. People are beginning to realize that there is a physical side to cybersecurity, and this platform is our differentiator.”

The EhEye team – a group of five with deep expertise in IT and public safety – has been working toward a minimum viable product for the past 10 months.

During this period, Stewart and the EhEye team have been working in Brick Park and benefitting from the entrepreneurial spirit and connected nature of the Saint John ICT community.

“It was never a question of not working Uptown (in Brick Park), that’s where everything is happening. Enterprise Saint John played a big part in finding us a place to call home,” says Stewart. “We’re in ConnexionWorks at 1 Germain Street [ConnexionWorks is a collaborative workspace in the heart of Brick Park that nurtures natural collisions and collaborative thinking.].  It’s such a supportive location for the ICT sector, and by being present in that space opportunities happen and connections are made. In fact, we were introduced to Patrick Parent through our network and now he’s an equal co-founder and COO – our team has grown because of that spirit.”

It’s exactly that spirit of community that’s propelling EhEye to the next level. The company is on track to introduce its minimum viable product in July of 2017 – and what they’re looking to introduce is ground breaking.

“Up until very recently, what we are doing wasn’t even possible. We now have access to computer hardware with multiple GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) and can train analytical models in under 24 hours that would have taken weeks before. Camera technology is also incredibly mature but remains under-utilized. We feel this is what makes the video surveillance industry so ripe for disruption.”

Two years from now Stewart expects to be a leader in the video surveillance market. “I think in two years’ time, we’ll be a $20 million business,” says Stewart. “We have the potential to be a $500 million company, and we’ll need to decide if we want to stay at the helm or pass the reigns over to a company with the tools to help us scale.”

 

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