Restb.ai: Why custom computer vision as a service makes sense

A Barcelona-based tech startup has developed an intelligent image-recognition product that it says can provide highly specific information about the content of pictures.
Written by Anna Solana, Contributor

While others are trying to distill information from images in general terms, RestB says it aims to be much more specific.

Image: RestB

Last month, Facebook had to apologize after guns, drugs, snakes, and baby hedgehogs were listed for sale on its new Marketplace section. RestB reckons it could have avoided that situation.

The Barcelona based B2B startup has developed an algorithm to determine in near real time what is in a particular image, thus solving a number of potential business problems posed through the automated interpretation of imagery.

On the face of it, RestB's commercial proposition available through a simple HTTP RESTful API call appears to be quite similar to computer-vision services offered by big firms such as Microsoft, IBM, and Google, which has just published two datasets of captioned images to help train computer-vision systems.

Yet, Xavi Hernando, RestB co-founder and data scientist, argues that his company has found a way to differentiate its offering.

"Large technology firms offer closed solutions to distill information from images in general terms. RestB tries to solve specific problems by taking advantage of state-of-the-art artificial intelligence," Hernando says.

"If we take a picture of a city, Google or Microsoft would describe it by indicating that it shows streets, buildings and people, by day or night. RestB is able to train intelligent models to figure out the brand and model of cars appearing in the image, the location and status of traffic lights or the architectural style of buildings."

Through these high-precision models, the company, which started its activity in early 2016, has gained clients in multiple verticals all around the world, including Northern Europe, US, Australia, and Asia.

The real-estate sector, the automotive sector, and leading marketplaces are particularly interested in this deep learning technology.

"We can block spam or badly-tagged images and sort pictures from the different parts of a house, classify more than 900 models of cars or categorize products for a marketplace app and block those which are prohibited such as weapons or drugs," Hernando says.

RestB CEO Àngel Esteban reckons the company's intelligent image-recognition API can adapt to any case with results accuracy of between 95 percent and 98 percent.

"We've a client in Norway who is using it to determine the state of pipelines. The technology [could also be used to tell you] whether a driver is too tired to be at the wheel, or to analyze objects and actions in crime scenes, or even equip drones to be of use in catastrophes zones," Esteban says.

The RestB product is based on convolutional neural networks, which is a deep-learning technique.

Jordi Torres, an expert in artificial intelligence supercomputing for the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, says convolutional neural networks work by consecutively modelling small pieces of information and combining them ever deeper into the system.

"They can give very accurate results when using a significant computing power. Training these networks to be precise is not an easy task. Yet, it is now possible to get trained machine-learning networks through the publicly available dataset ImageNet [which consists of 14 million images]," he says

RestB CEO Esteban insists that RestB is "the only company offering custom computer vision as a service for now" and reveals the startup is in the midst of a financing round to improve its algorithm to be able to respond to clients more quickly.

"We want to grow internationally too. Being at the Disrupt San Francisco 2016 conference gave us international projection. In fact, we're thinking about setting up in California, where things move quicker. Yet we want to keep the core business in Barcelona because Barcelona is a powerful brand," Esteban says.

Núria Betriu, CEO of Catalonia Trade & Investment, believes that artificial intelligence is a key technology that will have an impact in several areas, ranging from the financial sector, to tourism, retail and smart mobility.

"These are sectors with particular significance for the Catalan industry, a fact that outlines an attractive ecosystem for technology companies around the world interested in implementing their developments before making them available globally," she says.

"If data is the new unrefined oil, artificial intelligence is the process of transformation that makes it a valuable material for any business."

RestB CEO Esteban echoes this sentiment: "We don't have to be afraid of AI. It's a tool to help us move ahead more rapidly."

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