Updated on: February 6, 2024
Derek Peterson, Founder and CEO of Soter Technologies, shares his inspiring journey in a SafetyDetectives interview, revealing how his passion for technology and personal experience with bullying led to the establishment of the company. Motivated by a commitment to student safety, Peterson’s innovations include the FlySense, the world’s first air quality sensor designed to detect vaping chemicals. Deployed in over 2,500 school districts globally, Soter Technologies’ technologies not only address bullying and vaping but also contribute to creating healthier indoor environments by monitoring air quality. The interview highlights the company’s privacy-focused approach, deliberately excluding microphones or cameras from their devices to ensure anonymity. Recent advancements, such as the FlySense FS300, showcase Soter Technologies’ ongoing dedication to improving detection features and proactive school security measures.
Can you talk about your journey and what inspired you to establish Soter Technologies?
As a teen I was fascinated with computers and technology and have been developing software since high school. Following high school, I attended Stony Brook University and received my bachelor’s degrees in computer science and applied mathematics. When I founded Soter Technologies, I wanted to create devices and technology that would keep students and others safe in school as well as in office environments. This goes back to my experience in high school when I was a victim of bullying. From that time one on, it has been my personal mission to help those who could not help themselves. I know what it is like to attend school in fear; no student should have that feeling. Students should be able to focus on their education, sports and other extracurricular activities.
Our first device focused on registering sound anomalies and looking for aggressive behavior which could indicate that someone is being bullied. This device was deployed in school bathrooms and locker rooms where cameras are not allowed. From conversations we had with school administrators, we learned about the growing vaping epidemic and how it was negatively impacting students’ health and their ability to learn. Vaping was also diverting important staff time away from teaching to monitor what was going on in bathrooms and dealing with students who were vaping.
Can you elaborate on the technology behind your non-invasive detection solutions for student health?
We created and patented the world’s first air quality sensor, specifically designed to pick up when people are vaping in a given indoor space. Our device and system is called FlySense and it has evolved over the years. Our sensors are typically mounted on bathroom ceilings. When the device detects vape chemicals (Volatile Organic Compounds) in the air, a text message or email is immediately sent to a school administrator or security personal. Our products are primarily deployed in the school setting, specifically in middle schools and high schools. FlySense devices are currently in over 2,500 school districts in all 50 states and over 30 countries around the world.
Our technology is critical for both vaping and bullying detection. Our IOT sensor fills the gaps in areas where cameras cannot be deployed. Information gathered is given to school administrators and school security officers. With this real time data, we are assisting them to reduce and eliminate bullying as well as identify students who are vaping. Once detected, school administrators can provide students with a pathway to help them quit vaping and break their addiction to nicotine. Having detectors also deters vaping, this is even more important today since THC (liquid marijuana) is now legal in many states.
How does your company’s technology assist in creating healthier indoor environments?
One key to creating a healthier indoor environment is being able to understand the overall air quality in particular spaces. Administrators cannot fix a problem if they do not know how severe it is. In this case, having data about indoor air quality is critical. Our devices are capable of understanding air quality and reporting it. Data is tracked, analyzed and shared. This allows for actions to be taken and solutions to be developed to improve quality or eliminate hazardous chemicals like those found in vapes. By identifying where vaping occurs, we are able to assist schools in deterring vaping and reduce the number of students vaping on campuses.
With this technology and data, we assist stakeholders in making informed decisions about healthier air in their commercial buildings. In general, when air quality is poor, productivity is reduced. The first objective is to know the quality of the air throughout a building at different times of day and different days of the week. From here, strategies can be implemented to enhance air quality.
Can you discuss any recent advancements in detecting and preventing bullying?
This past October (2023), we released our eighth-generation device called FlySense FS300, which is built on a new platform and has enhanced bullying detection features. The new device is built with AI where it only picks up human voices, frequencies and monitors for aggressive sound anomalies. This advanced technology limits interference from other noise that may come from the slamming of doors, water running and other actions within a bathroom.
Our new devices are more sensitive and include having tamper proof and proximity detectors to deter interference or damage. If a student physically gets too close to a device, or the device is being tampered with, an alarm will sound.
When aggressive sounds are made by an individual, the device does not record, but will identify when certain thresholds are reached. This anomaly is then reported to a school security officer, school administrator or other entity in the private sector.
How does Soter Technologies approach the issue of privacy in school security applications?
Our devices are built without microphones or cameras, ensuring all students’ identities remain anonymous. There is no concern in a school or work environment where anybody is tracked or personally identified by our devices. Instead, our devices are intended to identify if a behavior such as vaping or bullying is taking place within a bathroom and alert the appropriate individuals. If there is a sound anomaly, the message is then sent to the same group of individuals who would be tasked with responding to such incidents.
How does your technology proactively help schools address air quality concerns?
Our devices monitor indoor air quality which includes pollutants that penetrate from the outdoors, as well as indoor sources such as: human activities within buildings such as smoking, burning solid fuels, cooking and cleaning; VOCs from building and construction materials, equipment and furniture; and biological contaminants, such as mold, viruses, bacteria or allergens. Exposure to natural light is shown to decrease depression and boost energy, alertness and productivity. The intensity, quality of man-made indoor lighting as well as the lighting, color and temperature also plays a role in students’ health and ability to perform tasks efficiently.
Our devices have built-in IoT sensors that constantly monitor the air, thus giving schools a 24/7 status on air quality. That means they know what is happening during a school day as well as what happens after hours so they can monitor what the air quality is, and if there are issues, mitigate the problems. Air quality is a major concern in schools as well as in workplaces across the nation. Healthier indoor air environments allow for students and employees to learn and work more effectively. Clean air, creates a healthier indoor environment which reduces illnesses, reduces absences, enhances productivity and overall wellbeing.