German researchers have developed new self-service scales able to automatically recognize fruit or vegetables placed on them. As says the lead scientist, 'The scales automatically recognize which fruit or vegetables are to be weighed and ask the customer to choose between only those icons that are relevant,' such as various kinds of tomatoes. These scales are equipped with a camera and an image evaluation algorithm which compares the image with other ones stored in its database. These scales are now being tested in about 300 supermarkets across Europe. But read more...
You can see above how "the intelligent self-service scales automatically recognize which type of fruit or vegetable has been placed on them." (Credit: Fraunhofer IITB) If the resolution is not good enough for you, here is a link to a larger version of this photo.
This research work has been done at Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing (IITB) under a contract with the industrial weighing company Mettler-Toledo. This project has been led by IITB scientist Sascha Voth (page in German).
Now, let's see how these scales can distinguish between various vegetables? "'The goods are registered by a camera integrated in the scales. An image evaluation algorithm compares the image with stored data and thus automatically recognizes which type of fruit this is,' says Voth. Even the cloudy plastic bags in which the fruit may be packaged at the counter are no problem for the scales -- the image evaluation system recognizes the various types of fruit and vegetable anyway."
I know I can recognize a large variety of apples even their colors are very different between species, but how a piece of software can handle this? "Many types of fruit are a different color depending how ripe they are. Bananas, for instance, range from a uniform green to yellow or even spotted brown. Other types of fruit such as apples and pears come in numerous varieties that can likewise vary widely in color. 'The new scales are very tolerant to fluctuations in color and brightness. The module can be employed under many different kinds of illumination and with different kinds of camera. Supermarket employees can of course extend the selection of fruit recognized by the scales to make it include new varieties,' says Voth."
This image recognition software will almost not be certainly 100% accurate. So expect the supermarkets testing these new scales to be ready to handle lots of customer complaints -- at least when the scales charge them for a more expensive produce than the one they picked.
And if you have been one of the (un)lucky human testers, please drop me a note to tell me if these scales offer a better experience than current ones where you have to enter a code for each kind of fruit you want to bring home.
Sources: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Research News, Issue 8-2008, Topic 5; and various websites
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