Ground-breaking sensor teaches A.I. about its physical world – without cameras

Creator Alex Bowen

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DISRUPTIVE Scottish start-up company IMERAI has developed a sensor which allows an Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) to understand the physical world around it.

The technology uses echolocation instead of light to receive images in a similar way to a bat which uses sound to understand its surroundings. The resulting picture appears without identifiable data so that privacy is protected.

Focusing initially on domestic applications, the breakthrough is essential for privacy in the home. However, the sensor’s applications are wide ranging, including facilitating social distancing in office buildings and supporting those with dementia and other assisted living needs.

IMERAI, based at the Edinburgh Business School Incubator, Heriot Watt University, has now attracted sufficient investment to build a full engineering team with the addition of five new roles.

Alex Bowen, a recent Heriot-Watt University graduate, founded IMERAI in 2018. He evolved the technology from his dissertation project into the business.

He said: “To train and build an A.I. you need to teach it how to interpret information which is most often described by a human. All A.I.s need to constantly learn and adapt to understand the world like we do. But industry continues to face the challenge of how to teach A.I. about what happens in people’s homes without invading users’ privacy from human oversight or camera use.

“As with many problems, nature had the solution. In the wild, bats send out a screech and they listen for the echoes to understand distances and the location of physical objects. In this way, the bat can interpret its surroundings. Our sensors work in a similar way using echolocation to create a picture without any identifying data so that privacy is protected.

“This has widespread applications. As the UK debates how to ease lockdown measures safely, this type of technology could be used to count how many people are present in an office location and how far apart they are to aid with social distancing and infection control. For assisted living, this could be game-changing for dementia sufferers and others with assisted living needs, allowing their movements to be monitored and any deterioration to be picked up more quickly.”


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