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Blippar builds computer vision solution to improve AR in cities

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Pokémon Go introduced smartphone augmented reality to millions of people, capturing new fans by overlaying gameplay on the real world. Blippar has been working with the technology for years though, developing AR apps that display information about the places around you.

Augmented reality startup Blippar has announced a prototype app that makes augmented reality in cities faster and more precise. The company intends to make future augmented reality apps, like the next Pokémon Go, more responsive and visually accurate.

AR on smartphones faces two related challenges: it’s often slightly sluggish and it tends to look slightly out of place. Because AR apps have to continuously work out your location using a combination of GPS, accelerometer and compass data, performance can be lacking.

When the GPS signal is weak, such as in a city, responsiveness can be further degraded and measurement inaccuracies occur. The result is the virtual objects don’t quite move with the phone and can seem to be mis-aligned with the edges of the real world.

Blippar’s now working to solve these problems using a new approach. The MIT Technology Review reports the company is licensing street-level imagery from services such as Google Street View. It’s then indexing the images and matching them with their real positions. When a smartphone user points their device at the location, the image in the camera viewfinder should match one of the indexed reference shots.

By using computer vision technology, Blippar can determine the phone’s position using the feed from the camera alone. The app continually matches the image from the camera with its set of indexed photos. The dataset contains photos of buildings and public places from different angles, directions and distances, accounting for every possible position of the phone.

Blippar claims the technology is accurate to within eight meters. In a best case scenario, it could be accurate to three meters. This compares favourably with the typical five metre range of GPS, especially as GPS becomes notoriously less accurate in built-up areas.

prototype video created by Blippar demonstrates the technology in action. Although the graphics are obviously basic, they do seem to respond quickly and move smoothly through the scene. Blippar intends to rollout iOS and Android apps later this year that will offer public demonstrations.

Blippar’s approach to AR positioning is innovative but not without its own fault. Because it relies wholly on previously captured imaging data, it only works in locations that have been indexed by the app. So far, it’s limited to select areas of London in the UK, and Mountain View and San Francisco in California.

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AI will fuel the next wave of digital transformation in Asia

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From the recently-wrapped Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore, president of Asia and corporate vice president at Microsoft, Ralph Haupter, spoke to Bloomberg Markets: Asia on how Artificial Intelligence will continue to disrupt the technology space and drive growth on the continent.

As it stands, an increasing number of reports are showing the importance of AI on growth on a global scale:

  • AI could contribute an additional $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030 (PwC)
  • The technology represents a potential impact on GDP of 26.1 percent in China (PwC)
  • 28 percent of businesses are already realizing tangible returns on their AI implementation (AI Business)

“We need to understand that AI is the next accelerator for digital transformational companies,” explained Haupter. “We did a study here in Asia and it turns out that companies really think AI will drive double on innovation and double on productivity. That’s pretty impactful.”

The study referenced by Haupter was released earlier this year, showing that AI will accelerate the rate of innovation and employee productivity improvements to nearly double in Asia Pacific by 2021. Furthermore, only 41 percent of organizations in the region have embarked on the AI journey.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Haupter cited one success story: Narayana Health in India, which uses AI visual recognition with its X-Rays. “The quality is better, the cost is down, scale is higher — that’s what technology is about. It makes me excited.”

[Learn more about Narayana’s digital transformation]

The urgency of re-skilling

Of course, a significant touchpoint when discussing the important and rise of AI on growth, is the prioritization of reskilling workers.

A recent IBM Institute for Business Value study found that “as many as 120 million workers in the world’s 12 largest economies may need to be retrained or reskilled over the next three years as a result of the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.”

In his interview, Haupter is quick to point out that AI “is something that is augmenting us as human beings, and not replacing us,” emphasizing that reskilling is a clear goal on the agenda.

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Robot delivery: Bots will be bringing parcels to your home

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Ford, FedEx and Amazon are each at an advanced stage with autonomous robot delivery vehicles, designed to bring packages to the doors of businesses and homes. Several successful pilots have been completed.

Each robot looks different but the objective is similar — getting a package to a customer using an autonomous machine. The aim of these new robot delivery tools is to boost efficiency and eliminate the need to pay people to carry out the final part of the delivery process.

Ford / Agility Robotics

Ford, more commonly associated with cars and trucks, is partnering with legged locomotion specialist Agility Robotics to assess how self-driving car deliveries can be improved. The project objective is to ensure self-driving vehicles can accomplish something that’s been very difficult to accomplish: carrying out the last step of the delivery, from the car to the recipient’s front door.

The two companies hope the answer is a two-legged robot called “Digit”.

Digit has been designed to approximate the look and walk of a human. The robot is constructed from lightweight material and it is capable of lifting packages that weigh up to 40 pounds. In tests, Digit has been shown to be capable of going up and down stairs and to negotiate uneven terrain, thanks to the use of LiDAR and stereo cameras.

FedEx

The courier delivery services company FedEx is developing an autonomous delivery robot designed to assist retailers make same-day and last-mile deliveries to their customers. The device is called the FedEx SameDay Bot, and the aim is to deliver packages by bot directly to customers’ homes or businesses the same day. The device has been developed in collaboration with DEKA Development & Research Corp., run by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway.

The FedEx device is the most adventurous of the three, in that it will cross roads and is destined to cover longer distances. The interaction with roads is supported by machine-learning algorithms to help the robot to detect and avoid obstacles, plot a safe path, and to follow road and safety rules.

Amazon Scout

Amazon’s autonomous delivery robots are about to begin rolling out on California sidewalks. Amazon Scout will begin with delivering packages to the company’s Prime customers residing in Southern California. The new Amazon device will work during daylight hours, providing small and medium-sized packages to customers. The Amazon Scout is a six-wheeled electric-powered vehicle around the size of a small cooler. In terms of movement, the Scout rolls along sidewalks at what’s described as a walking pace.

Amazon began testing out the Scout in January 2019, running a pilot program using six machines to deliver packages in Snohomish County, Washington. Vice president of Amazon Scout Sean Scott said: “We developed Amazon Scout at our research and development lab in Seattle, ensuring the devices can safely and efficiently navigate around pets, pedestrians and anything else in their path.”

Following the success of the pilot — where the Scout autonomously navigated the various obstacles commonly found in residential neighborhoods like trashcans, skateboards, lawn chairs, the occasional snow blower and more — the device is ready for a wider launch.

The wider launch will feature a small number of Amazon Scout devices, delivering Monday through Friday, during daylight hours in the Irvine area of California, according to Smart2Zero. Customers will order items as they would normally, but in some cases their Amazon packages will be delivered by an Amazon Scout. To make sure things go smoothly, each Scout will initially be accompanied by a human “Amazon Scout Ambassador.”

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Amazon adds fear detection and age ranges to its facial-recognition tech as the Border Patrol looks to award a $950 million contract

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  • Amazon Web Services has added several new features to its facial-recognition technology, Rekognition.
  • This includes expanded age-recognition capabilities and the new ability to recognize fear.
  • Rekognition is a controversial technology and has been the subject of much criticism and protests — from both inside and outside Amazon.
  • These new features drew some flack from commenters on Twitter.
  • Meanwhile, the US Customers and Border Patrol is looking for quotes on a sweeping new border protection system that includes more facial-recognition tech.

Amazon Web Services has expanded the capabilities of its controversial facial-recognition technology called Rekognition.

It now better detects more age ranges and it can also detect fear, the company announced in a blog post on Monday.

The company explained (emphasis ours):

“Today, we are launching accuracy and functionality improvements to our face analysis features. Face analysis generates metadata about detected faces in the form of gender, age range, emotions, attributes such as ‘Smile’, face pose, face image quality and face landmarks. With this release, we have further improved the accuracy of gender identification. In addition, we have improved accuracy for emotion detection (for all 7 emotions: ‘Happy’, ‘Sad’, ‘Angry’, ‘Surprised’, ‘Disgusted’, ‘Calm’ and ‘Confused’) and added a new emotion: ‘Fear’.Lastly, we have improved age range estimation accuracy; you also get narrower age ranges across most age groups.”

Earlier this month AWS also announced that Rekognition can now detect violent content such as blood, wounds, weapons, self-injury, corpses, as well as sexually explicit content.

But it was the news of more age ranges and fear detection that was met with comments on Twitter.

Just last month several protesters interrupted Amazon AWS CTO Werner Vogels during a keynote speech at an AWS conference in New York.

They were protesting AWS’s work with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the family separation policy at the Southern Border. Amazon hasn’t acknowledged whether ICE uses its Rekognition technology, but the company did meet with ICE officials to pitch its facial-recognition tech, among other AWS services, as revealed by emails between Amazon and various government officials obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations.

Amazon’s Rekognition has come under fire from a wide range of groups who want the company to stop selling it to law enforcement agencies. In April, AI experts penned an open letter to Amazon about it. Civil rights group have protested it. 100 Amazon employees sent a letter to management last year asking the company to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement. Another 500 signed a letter this year asking Amazon to stop working with ICE altogether.

“AWS comes under fire for Rekognition sales to the federal government, who in turn is building concentration camps for children, and AWS’s response is to improve ‘age range estimation’ and ‘fear detection’ in the service? Are you f– KIDDING ME?!” tweeted Corey Quinn from the Duckbill Group, a consultant that helps companies manage their AWS bill. Quinn also hosts theScreaming in the Cloud podcast.

Another developer tweeted, “In 25 years we’re going to be talking about how AWS handled this situation in the same way we talk about how IBM enabled the holocaust. Every engineer and ML researcher who worked on this should be ashamed of themselves.”

The CBP is looking to buy more facial-recognition tech

Meanwhile, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a sister agency to ICE, has put out a new request for quotes on a sweeping new border-security system that includes expanded use of facial-recognition technology.

“Integration of facial recognition technologies is intended throughout all passenger applications,” the RFQ documents say.

The CBP already uses facial recognition at various airports, such as in Mexico City, where it matches passenger’s faces with photos taken from their passports or other government documents, it says.

And the CBP uses other biometric information, such as taking fingerprints of people at the border if it suspects that they are entering the country illegally, it says.

“CBP’s future vision for biometric exit is to build the technology nationwide using cloud computing,” the agency wrote in a 2017 article about the use of facial recognition and finger-print tech.

This new contract for new border security technologies is expected to begin in early 2020 and could be worth $950 million over its lifespan, according to the RFQ documents.

This article was originally published on Business Insider. Copyright 2019.

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