High-tech solutions from a Big Valley-based AI startup


By Cara Aungst 

Computer vision systems like airport X-ray and CT scanners need vast amounts of screening data to continue improving capabilities. Screening data is massive, difficult to share—and sometimes hazardous to gather. For instance, how do you teach airport security machines to look for someone stashed in a suitcase when real-life testing is dangerous? Happy Valley startup Cignal has a solution and it’s working with colleagues across the homeland security industry to make transportation security safer, smarter, and more precise.

“We’re really focused on developing software that can help build trustworthy artificial intelligence,” Founder and CEO Jaclyn Fiterman said. “The Cignal Engine creates an environment to safely exercise and test AI vision models before they’re deployed operationally.”

Jaclyn Fiterman, Founder & CEO Eric Fiterman, CTO & Cignal Engine Lead

Cignal Engine creates virtual environments for X-ray and CT testing, creating unlimited 2D and 3D labeled image data. It fuzes real materials into a variety of objects and scenes, which can be endlessly modified. A video demonstration shows ballistics material hidden inside a bag of gummy bears, a disassembled handgun with parts distributed in hidden compartments, and a person stowed in a suitcase—all scenarios that could be dangerous or difficult to fully test in the real world.

Fiterman started the company in 2018 with her husband, CTO and Cignal Engine Lead Eric Fiterman. Before starting the company, both Jaclyn and Eric worked for the federal government.

“After 9/11, I worked with the FBI as an intelligence analyst and met my husband, who was working as a special agent with the FBI, so the mission of protecting our country is meaningful to both of us,”  she said.

Now, the couple is continuing to support national security through what she’s calling “trustworthy artificial intelligence:” using technology to keep people safe as they travel. The Fitermans initially started their company in Los Angeles and then moved back to the Washington, D.C. area where they had spent so much time while they were in the FBI. “When the pandemic hit, we were looking for something else,” she said. They found a property for sale in Central Pennsylvania and decided to make the move.

Cignal set up headquarters thirty minutes from State College in Big Valley, where its neighbors are Amish farms, small businesses, and fellow entrepreneurs. Fiterman says that the community has proven to be the ideal spot for their growing company. “Big Valley and Penn State have been wonderful for us,” she said. “Being close to the labs and research at Penn State is great for Cignal, and would be hard to find elsewhere. Big Valley networking through the Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce has opened a lot of doors for us. It’s a very beneficial ecosystem.”

When the company relocated to the Happy Valley area, Ben Franklin Technology Partners served as a vital connector to plug Cignal into the local ecosystem. “José Otero and  Todd Erdley helped us get involved with Ben Franklin and learn the services that it provides,” Fiterman said. “Through their Innovation Adoption Program, we received a grant for a Cignal Engine materials project. Recently, Cignal also was awarded a Ben Franklin investment. We’ve been able to network and  meet many local businesses and entrepreneurs through Ben Franklin connections.”

While Amish buggies pass their office windows, Cignal is creating solutions to global security issues—and tackling AI’s biggest problems at the same time. “AI has a lot of buzz around it right now, and there is a lot of public concern about trustworthiness,” Fiterman said. “It is easy to get caught up in the coding and algorithm development, but our work has a much bigger purpose: keeping people safe when they fly, or creating more accurate cancer screenings. We are helping by providing an environment to test and improve AI models and reveal information about their performance that might not be available  otherwise, creating a better sense of trustworthiness.”

The company plans to go public in the next 12-18 months with its community edition of Cignal Engine, serving primarily non-commercial research and academic sectors. From there, it plans to grow into a professional edition that will serve a variety of commercial users. And Fiterman says that it is located in the perfect place to launch and grow.

“Cignal’s office is in beautiful Big Valley, has high-speed internet, is minutes from Penn State, and has been able to attract and retain talent — all in the middle of Amish country,” she said. “I don’t think that we would have this ability to grow and collaborate anywhere else. Cignal started to grow when it moved here, because of all these great partnerships.”


Share on activity feed

Powered by WP LinkPress

Happy Valley Industry is the voice for innovation, research and industry in the Happy Valley region of Central Pennsylvania.

Powered by Affinity Connection

© Copyright 2024 - All Rights Reserved
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram