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Vaakeye, Japan’s AI Technology, Offers Solution To The Growing Shoplifting Cases In The US



Big grocery stores and supermarkets have identified probing problems linked to losing revenues: the spread of shoplifters.

Being cheated into is inevitable. Security guards are protective enough but don’t have the power to identify most of the shoplifters who enter the store. Staff members might miss the actual act since they have to assist customers’ concerns too. CCTV and security cameras prove to be efficient, but at the time when owners finally able to view the scene, shoplifters have already escaped and happily roamed around downtown.

The United States, a first world country with remarkably advance in terms of technology and lifestyle, experiences the same disturbing case. The land of the free revealed that they too are bombarded with the same dilemma, costing its retailers to lose billions of dollars a year. It’s a hard pill to swallow. But, there are too many shoplifting incidents happening per year which inevitably causes companies a significant sum.

However, Japan may help put these shoplifters behind bars, as it announces its newest technological invention.

A Japanese startup has developed an artificial intelligence software that can quickly detect and distinguish shoplifters in the act. The new invention will be a massive advantage to staff members and retail owners, and will exponentially improve the ways to handle shoplifting. In a sense, the technology helps to alert the staffers once the action is on-going, allowing them to butt in and prevent pilferage.

The system is not yet available in the US, but Vaak, the Tokyo-based company responsible for creating the technology, said that it has to be tested in local convenience stores first before launching in various markets worldwide. In other words, Vaak needs to implement the technology on local US stores for it to be of great use to retailers.

Accordingly, Vaak previous tests done in local stores revealed exceptional results, plummeting 77 percent of shoplifting cases. The data acquired by Vaak on its tests details that the technology able to lower incidents significantly than most high-end security cameras have shown in the past years.

‘Vaakeye’ goal is to develop a system which works hand in hand with a store’s surveillance cameras to catch thieves that busy staffers might miss. Its keen developers trained the system by exposing it to television footage for more than 100 hours, showing honest shoppers versus shoplifters.

How it works involves complex data. However, for the public to understand the function of the said AI technology, here’s Vaak CEO Ryo Tanaka detailing the backdrop of the invention. And here’s what he said:

The system identifies suspicious and illegal activities of customers based on the installed hundreds of shoppers’ behavior such as gait, the manner of walking, hand and body movements, facial expressions and even the way they dress.

The AI technology for shoplifters is entirely different from other shoplifting detection technologies. For example, if the technology spots behavior that may be suspicious enough based on the data stored on its system, it will then alert the personnel or the owner via an app. The staff members will have to decide what actions to take to prevent the act and not the machine itself. He or she can either approach the potential shoplifters or ask if that specific people have something they need.

The bottom line is, the system doesn’t label people as shoplifters or thieves because doing so may result in customer grievances and complaints. What the system offers is complete guidance through informing staffers to “please check these individuals, they might steal things” rather than pointing fingers.

Due to the increasing rate of shoplifting in the country, which accounts for billions of losses, Japan’s artificial intelligence has paved the way to combat retail reduction.

Last year, the Japanese communications giant, ‘NTT’ East, made headlines with its invention called AI Guardsman, a camera that uses technology which detects shoplifters through their body languages and gestures. It is the same concept as that of Vaakeye. AI Guardsman’s developers concluded that with its technological cameras, shoplifting was down by almost 40 percent.

However, despite its promising effort to prevent shoplifting, the new AI technology is being criticized for its disadvantages. With the technology installed on most retail stores, regular customers may be afraid of entering, knowing that they are being tracked. And, for some retailers, that would eventually hurt retail sales.

There is also an issue with the systems being biased against shoplifter’s clothing. Unless the learning algorithms tend to be very good at training the system, there will be no problem. However, if the training session teaches that those shoplifters who wear dark-colored jackets might be a potential shoplifter, then the system will create a bias interpretation.

But Jerome Williams, a professor and senior administrator at Rutgers University’s Newark campus, praises Vaakeye’s AI technology. He said that the system’s focusing on body language is a right approach, adding that ‘technology should not racially profile but behaviourally profile people.’

The thing is, Vaakeye pledged that the system had been studied for years and the algorithms used to study the technology are well crafted. The shoplifting AI technology is already out in the world, with the system had been applied in around 50 stores in Tokyo area. And it made a promise to be out soon not only in Japan but in different countries worldwide.

I've been contributing news since 2010, both online and print. Aside from Z6Mag, I manage independent news blogs that provide awareness on a diverse list of topics to every reader.

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Arts & Entertainment

FAA to Consider Letting Hollywood use Drones



Drones in Hollywood

The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that it would consider a request by several companies to use drones for filming movies and TV shows.

The FAA plans to propose a formal rule for commercial drones by the end of the year, but regulations aren’t expected to be finalized until 2015.

Currently, the FAA is reviewing a request from seven aerial and photo and video production companies that seeks permission to use “unmanned aircraft systems” for the first time.

The companies that have filed petitions to receive exemptions are: Aerial Mob, Astraeus Aerial, Flying-Cam Inc., HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision Inc., Vortex Aerial, and Snaproll Media, the FAA said in a statement.

The movie industry has been using drones with cameras overseas for some time, but Hollywood wants the technology to be a staple of filmmaking here in the U.S.

The motion picture companies are seeking exemption from regulations that address general flight rules, pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates.

“Hollywood wants to use drones badly,” said Neal Undgerleider who covers science and technology for Fast Company magazine. He said drones are not only cheaper than other filming methods, but they’re also safer. “When they do crash, frankly it causes much less damage than having a helicopter or a crane crash, and they are much more reliable,” Ungerleider said.

“Unmanned aircraft systems offer the motion picture and television industry an innovative and safer option for filming,” Neil Fried, the Motion Picture Association of America’s senior vice president of Government and Regulatory Affairs, said in a statement. “This new tool for storytellers will allow for creative and exciting aerial shots, and is the latest in a myriad of new technologies being used by our industry to further enhance the viewer experience.”

FAA spokesman Les Dorr said the authority would consider Hollywood’s proposals on their merits. “We have been contacted by four different industries, including the film industry, that have expressed interest in possibly applying for an exemption that would let them conduct tightly controlled, low-risk operations,” he confirmed. “We think we have the authority to possibly expand the commercial use of small unmanned aircrafts in very limited, controlled, low-risk circumstances, like movie sets.”

“If the exemption requests are granted, there could be tangible economic benefits as the agency begins to address the demand for commercial UAS operations,” the FAA wrote in a statement. “However, all the associated safety issues must be carefully considered to make sure any hazards are appropriately mitigated. The petitioner must still obtain operational approval from the FAA.”

FAA considers drone use for film and TV

The Federal Aviation Administration announced it will consider allowing certain companies in the film and television industry to use drones to shoot video.

Related Stories:

Predator Drones Used by Local Police & Domestic Law Enforcement For Spying
Drone Hacked With Spoofing on Approval of DHS by University of Texas Researchers

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Nomorobo Blocks Robo Calls with Free Service



Nomorobo Calls

If you are tired of robocalls, have no fear because Aaron Foss, a software programmer from Long Island has invented Nomorobo to block those annoying phone calls.

Nomorobo will screen calls before they reach your phone. If it detects a robocall, the computer hangs up on it before you get the second ring.

The free service started September 30 for customers who have VoiP service with AT&T U-verse, Cablevision Optimum, SureWest, Verizon FiOS and Vonage. You don’t need caller ID for this to work and the call information Nomorobo collects will be anonymous to protect your privacy.

Nomorobo promises that it won’t block legal robocalls which sometimes schools use for closings, or for doctor appointment reminders, prescription reminders and weather advisories.

“I think about it like email spam. If we try to stop spammers, it’s a battle we can’t win,” said Foss. “But we can get it and stop it in our spam boxes, and Nomorobo was designed after the same idea.”

Foss has been working non-stop on his invention since April, when he tied for first place and won $25,000 in the Federal Trade Commission’s Robocall Challenge. And since Nomorobo was announced as the co-winner of the FTC’s contest, nearly 23,500 consumers have signed up.

“We’re aware and extremely pleased that potential technological solutions to help consumers block unwanted, illegal robocalls are making their way to the marketplace,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Every month, the FTC receives around 178,500 consumer complaints about telemarketing and automated robocalls.

The National Do Not Call Registry, which lets consumers sign up their home phones and cellphones, helps block most – but not all – telemarketing calls. As of June 2013, there were more than 221 million numbers registered.

“DNC has been extremely successful when it comes to legitimate telemarketers,” said FTC’s Daffan, whose agency oversees the registry. “Legitimate companies scrub their lists against the DNC registry and do refrain from calling.”

Nomorobo’s algorithm uses caller ID and call frequency information to screen incoming calls. CNBC reported that for now, it’s using a database of 1.2 million phone numbers from complaints filed with state and federal regulators. Going forward, calls coming to subscribers will be added.

Since the launch, Nomorobo has experienced extremely heavy traffic and they state on their website to, “Please try again later if you get an error.”  That doesn’t stop Foss though, he says he’s netted some venture capital and angel investor funds. He’s also working on a solution to let benign, lawful robocallers, such as emergency alerts, to get through Nomorobo.

He’s also planning to update the service with “value-added features,” which would let people ban, for example, political calls from coming through. “People are screaming out for a solution,” he said. “I hope to make their lives a little bit better.”

Death to Robocalls with Nomorobo

Sick of getting Robocalls? So is the FTC. Late last year they announced a $50,000 contest for anyone who can figure out the best tech solution to the robocall problem. Annie tells you about some of the interesting contest entries as well as the winner of the robocall challenge – Nomorobo!

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New Way to Draw Blood: Veebot, a Robot Phlebotomist with 83 Percent Accuracy



Robot Phlebotomist

There’s a new way to draw blood from patients with a high accuracy than a human. It’s called Veebot, the Robotic Phlebotomist that can ultimately speed up the process of drawing blood or inserting IVs.

The whole process takes about a minute, and tests of the Veebot show that it can correctly identify the best vein to draw blood from with approximately 83% accuracy. The team is currently working on upping that rate to 90 percent accuracy before starting clinical trials. The robot won’t be taking over any jobs. The human phlebotomist still needs to load the test tube or IV bag, disinfect the arm and clean the puncture afterwards.

Veebot, made by a startup based in Mountain View, Califorbia, scans the patient’s arm using a visual analysis capability to select the vein. While seated, the patient puts his or her arm through an inflatable cuff, which acts as a tourniquet to restrict blood flow. The robotic medical technician then uses ultrasound and infrared light to search for veins before aligning and inserting a needle. Next, ultrasound confirms that the chosen vein has sufficient blood flow for a successful blood draw. Finally, the robotic arm aligns itself with the chosen vein and inserts the needle.

Veebot’s Richard Harris, a third-year undergraduate in Princeton University’s mechanical engineering program, tells IEEE Spectrum that the idea started in 2009 and it combined his love for both robotics and computer vision. “It had demanding requirements because you’d be fully automating something that is different every time and deals with humans,” he explained.

He built a prototype that could find and puncture dots drawn on flexible plastic tubing, and with funding from his father, he cofounded Veebot in 2010.

Now that a successful version is nearly ready, Harris is gearing up to sell to large medical facilities with an estimated market of $9 million.

The biggest challenge, Harris says, is human psychology. “If people don’t want a robot drawing their blood, then nobody is going to use it. We believe if this machine works better, faster, and cheaper than a person, people will want to use it.”

Robot Draws Blood

This robot system can find a vein and place a needle at least as well as a human can. Veebot, a start-up in Mountain View, Calif., is hoping to automate drawing blood and inserting IVs by combining robotics with image-analysis software.

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