Monday, March 12, 2012

Toshiba develops object recognition tech for food


Fruits and vegetables: the only items in a supermarket that don’t use barcodes. How cumbersome that a cashier must lookup and enter the item number for said food product. Wasted time that you could otherwise be using to, you know, not stand awkwardly waiting for your produce to be entered onto your grocery tab. Well, soon these empty seconds on your weekend shopping trip may be coming to an end thanks to Toshiba’s food recognition technology.

The Object Recognition Scanner (ORS) does more than just produce, though. It can even identify packaged items like bread and canned goods. Similar to how facial recognition technology puts parameters like width of the nose and distance between eyes as ways to identify people, the ORS uses certain parameters to categorize and identify goods. Specifically, Toshiba utilizes a pattern and color recognition technology so precise it can sense the subtle differences between a Red Delicious and Pink Lady apple.

Toshiba’s scanner utilizes a camera that can operate at high swiping speeds, identifying items as they are being whisked by. The ORS is able to do this by isolating any other image “noise,” and thereby concentrating only on the food product. The video above shows a cashier scanning a vegetable like they would an item with a barcode over a laser scanner.

There’s one minor aspect of the ORS that Toshiba’s Keiichi Hasegawa didn’t touch on in the video above: products priced by the pound—are they going to implement a weight system? Minor issues aside, Toshiba’s ORS does pose a threat to the standard laser scanners we see in supermarkets today. The company is even building up a huge database of produce and other grocery store items. However, being that the market is a global one, this product database will likely be limited to Japanese grocery items for now, and the ORS itself to Japanese grocery stores. But here’s to the future of supermarkets.