Date published: August 2, 2022
In the wake of recent mass shootings, the need for tools to intercept shooters quickly in order to minimize bloodshed is more critical than ever. Huntsville systems and software engineering company Invariant Corporation, founded over 20 years ago and now headquartered at 4040 Chris Drive, Suite 100 in South Huntsville, is stepping up to the plate to fill this need.
Invariant’s FireFLY (hostile Fire Fast Locating sensor) is a hostile fire-detection system originally created to support the US Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC). First deployed by the U.S. Army 4th Battalion in Afghanistan in 2011, it continues to operate overseas in support of deployed forces. More recently, it has found commercial law enforcement applications in multiple U.S. cities. Invariant founder and president David Anderson Developed jointly with Hyperion Technology Group of Tupelo, Mississippi, FireFLY is a low-cost system that combines a network of both optical and acoustic sensors to provide effective weapon fire detection with highly accurate geolocations of hostile fire events while virtually eliminating false alarms.
Following a 2015 serial shooting incident in Colorado, FireFLY’s capabilities in support of law enforcement were first tested with the deployment of sensors along the interstate north of Denver in support of an ATF investigation. Following this, it was tested on a large scale in Colorado Springs in 2018 in a joint exercise with the Colorado Springs Police, the DoD, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Its geolocation data led to the first recovery of firearm cartridge casings from a crime scene.
Retired ATF agent Tim Kelly, Invariant, and Hyperion joined forces to form an LLC known as Crime Gun Intelligence Technologies (CGIT), which sells the FireFLY systems to law enforcement agencies. FireFLY has been used in the Denver metro area and is currently being used in Talladega, El Paso, and Colorado Springs. Its largest existing customer, the city of Phoenix, is preparing to expand its FireFLY network by 300%. Thanks largely to word of mouth, additional cities are also considering implementing its systems.
The commercial law enforcement version of FireFLY is notably different from its military counterpart in that it’s smaller and significantly less noticeable. “It needs to kind of blend in a little bit more…we built it into an electronics box and it looks like just a regular box that’ll go on a telephone pole,” Invariant founder and president David Anderson explained. Although Invariant is not the only company with tools that can fulfill this need, it strives to be the best with the development of game-changing sensors that allow law enforcement to effectively detect shots from much greater distances. Most significantly, FireFLY differs from the competition in that each continually self-calibrating unit can be moved to different locations as needed, unlike other permanent grid-based systems.
“If you put a bunch of sensors in and they’re static, they can’t move them. If the crime moves away from that area, they’re covering an area that they don’t need to and they really need to be able to move it where the hotspots are,” Anderson said.
Invariant hosts a server that receives data from all of its sensors, then performs fusion and geolocation processes to interpret that data in real-time. According to Anderson, the system proved itself in Phoenix.
“They had a situation where there was an event in a suburb, and they took a portion of our sensors and moved them into the suburb area around where the shooting event was randomly occurring–with that they were able to monitor the sensors, generate patterns, and were able to catch this individual that was shooting.”
FireFLY units are used in tandem with other data gathering tools to collect data such as a shooter’s position, location, and weapon caliber, which is then analyzed in real-time and submitted directly to law enforcement agencies to allow for immediate evaluation and response.
In addition to law enforcement, Invariant continues to focus on a variety of software and systems engineering applications specializing in simulation technologies. The dictionary definition of Invariant means “a constant factor: one that does not change,” a meaning that can be extended to the company’s constant commitment to excellence. It’s not standing still, however: growth is also in its future, with the business’s footprint expanding by 26,000 square feet next spring.