The Defense Innovation Center Officially Opens at Capital Factory in Austin

The founders of Athena Security demonstrating its gun detection technology with Sen. John Cornyn at the official opening of the Defense Innovation Center at Capital Factory

By LAURA LOREK Publisher of Silicon Hills News

Athena Security showed off its gun detection system at the official opening of the Defense Innovation Center Thursday at Capital Factory.

The startup uses existing security cameras coupled with its specialized software that relies on machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify guns in a public setting.

For example, if a person pulled out a pistol or an automatic rifle at a school or church, the system would immediately send an alert

to law enforcement officials.

Sen. John Cornyn tested the system by pointing a handgun, which Athena supplied, toward the ceiling during a live demonstration of the technology Thursday afternoon.

Cameras captured the moment and flagged the handgun with a green square on a picture that flashed on a big screen immediately.

Athena Security, which moved to Austin recently, is run by Lisa Falzone, CEO and Chris Ciabarra, Chief Technology Officer. Their goal is to prevent a crime from occurring by identifying a shooter early on through their sophisticated artificial intelligence platform.

Athena is one of the startups that could potentially work with the military at its new Center for Defense Innovation at Capital Factory, on the eighth floor of the Omni Building in downtown Austin. The center had its official grand opening on Thursday afternoon with hundreds of people in attendance including dignitaries from local, state and federal government. They included Sen. Cornyn, Texas Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen and Gen. John M. Murray, head of the U.S. Army Futures Command Center, based in Austin.

The Center for Defense Innovation has space for Army Futures Command, AFWERX, Defense Innovation Unit, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and a team from Booz Allen Hamilton, a military contractor. Capital Factory is a co-working and technology accelerator in downtown Austin that is home to hundreds of startups and entrepreneurs. It also has a branch in Dallas and puts on programs geared to entrepreneurs.

Joshua Baer, CEO and Founder of Capital Factory, welcoming everyone to the official opending of the Defense Innovatin Center

“Capital Factory is the center of gravity for entrepreneurs working in Texas,” said Joshua Baer, its founder and CEO. “This is the place where entrepreneurs and innovators of all kinds come together to collaborate and build a better future using technology.”

Now with this new floor, Capital Factory is a new center of gravity of defense innovation, Baer said.

“This was not our idea,” Baer said. “We didn’t ask DIU, the Air Force or the Army to come here. They came to us.”

The entire Texas ecosystem, including San Antonio, came together to welcome the Army Futures Command to Austin, Baer said. Austin competed with more than 140 cities for the command which is based at UT and employs 500 U.S. Army personnel and civilians.

Another thing that makes the Center for Defense Innovation at Capital Factory unique is that it isn’t in a secure facility, Baer said.

“This is a place for collaboration, not for secrets,” he said. “Serendipity is an essential ingredient for innovation and it’s hard to have serendipity behind barb wire. And that’s why they came here.”

Sen. Cornyn said people don’t really think of the federal government and innovation together. In fact, the federal government is often thought of as antithetical to innovation, he said.

“So, I’m really excited to see the cross-cutting collaboration taking place here,” Cornyn said. “And I think it will help us be stronger, be better and be better stewards of the taxpayer dollar.”

The Center for Innovation tears down silos and forges a path into the future for military readiness, he said.

The Army Futures Command chose to come to Austin because it’s the best petri dish of innovation in Texas, Cornyn said. It is already home to hundreds of technology startups and the University of Texas which has one of the top ranked engineering schools in the nation, he said. UT also specializes in robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented and virtual reality and other technologies the military needs, he said.

“When it comes to equipping our military with the best resources and technology possible, we have to think outside the box and that’s what the Army Futures Command is all about,” Cornyn said. “And I can’t think of better place for that ingenuity than Austin, Texas.”

The military and Texas have a 150-year history and strong bonds, said Texas House Speaker Bonnen. Texas provides the military with more than 174,000 members, more than any other state after California. The state is also home to 15 active military installations with a $100 billion economic impact, Bonnen said.

Austin is home to 6,500 tech companies, 36 incubators and tens of thousands of students and veterans, Bonnen said.


Gen. John M. Murray, head of the U.S. Army Futures Command Center, based in Austin.

The Army Futures Command is the largest reorganization of the Army since 1973, said Gen. Murray. The first part of a problem is addressing that there is a problem, and the Army has failed at modernizing its forces for the past 30 years, Gen. Murray said.

No one in uniform wants to fight another war, Gen. Murray said. They want to deter war and the way to do that is through strong defense and innovation, he said.

The center has great potential in allowing the U.S. Army to accomplish its mission to make sure soldiers have the tools they need, Gen. Murray said.

Wall mural at the new Defense Innovation Center

In a press conference, Gen. Murray said he knows there is interest from other companies in the defense industry to establish some presence inside Capital Factory. He doesn’t know how many companies will move here. That wasn’t the intention of the Army Future Command, he said. It wanted to be close to where innovation was happening and to work with existing startups to help it solve problems, he said.

In addition to Athena Technologies, Senseye also gave a demonstration of its lie detector technology at the event. Senseye, a four-year-old tech startup which moved from Los Angeles to Austin, has already worked with the U.S. Air Force to help train fighter pilots.

Aside from all the startup activity, defense contractors show up at Capital Factory daily since the Army Futures Command picked Austin, Baer said.

To get an idea of what might happen in Austin, look at Crystal City in the Washington, D.C. area, which has the nation’s largest concentration of military contractors because of the Pentagon, Sen. Cornyn said.

Already, Booz Allen Hamilton, a military contractor, plans to double its presence at Capital Factory. It currently has 35 employees and plans to have 70 within a year, said Karen Dahut, executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, who leads its global defense business.

Booz Allen has been at Capital Factory for more than four years. It has worked with “creative director Mike Wikan and his Austin-based team to create Tabletop Commander, a virtual tabletop that uses immersive technology and artificial intelligence powered natural language processing to help the Air Force run virtual reality exercises,” according to news release.

Other products include Project Jellyfish, CodeLift and DataLift, to help the federal government collaborate more effectively with commercial clients, Dahut said.

The lockers at Capital Factory look a bit different since the military moved in