New supermarket scanner recognizes objects by appearance, not barcodes
By Ben Coxworth
March 8, 2012
At some point, we've probably all had a supermarket cashier ask us to identify the mysterious fresh produce that we're attempting to buy. Once we've told them what it is, they have then had to manually type in its code - they have to enter it themselves, of course, given that fruits and vegetables don't have barcodes. Thanks to Toshiba Tec, however, those days may be coming to an end. The company's new Object Recognition Scanner is able to instantly identify grocery items of all types based on their appearance alone.
Instead of a barcode-reading laser, the Object Recognition Scanner has a camera. That camera filters out background "noise" in its picture, so that it only sees objects held close to its lens against a neutral black background. Using pattern recognition software, the scanner has been taught to recognize different varieties of fruits and vegetables, along with packaged products and coupons. It can do so even if they're held up to the camera for a relatively short time, and aren't held absolutely still - which is pretty much the whole point of the system.
Given that it wouldn't be practical to expect supermarket staff to teach the system to recognize every item in their store, it will instead be delivered with a pre-installed database of produce and other products. Because the appearance of fresh produce changes with the season, it will take a full year to compile that database.
Toshiba is now refining the technology, so that it can more quickly and easily "read" objects from a wide range of distances.
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