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As a graduate student at MIT, George Shaw worked on the Human Speechome Project—a study of how infants learn languages. The research team discovered that the approach to study language acquisition could also be used to understand peoples’ behaviors.
“Even though from what we know it’s mathematically impossible, just about every child learns to speak. Clearly there was a gap in our knowledge, and the goal of the Human Speechome Project was to begin to fill that gap,” says Shaw, founder and CEO of Pathr.ai, a provider of retail spatial intelligence solutions. Who knew that his research would lead Shaw to helping retailers better understand their customers.
Connecting the Dots with Retail Technology
By studying a baby’s babble, Shaw discovered that regularities and interactions in an environment could create valuable retail industry analytics. The Pathr.ai Spatial Intelligence solution uses machine learning models to track the movement of people inside stores. Spatial intelligence is a cognitive layer that sits on top of AI. “It provides higher-level reasoning and is the business intelligence layer that says, ‘Here’s what this tracking actually means,’” says Shaw.
Pathr.ai’s solution leverages existing video cameras, with devices fed into a local server. The camera’s learning model is designed to detect people anonymously, producing dots moving around a map, and those dots move into the Pathr.ai Behavior Engine.
“It’s where the playbook lives,” says Shaw. “We extract business intelligence from the movement of those dots in real time to make decisions.”
Since AI is run on the local server, Pathr.ai’s solution requires the most compute horsepower. “We’re able to run in various environments, but the most efficient and cost-effective is with systems built on Intel processors and the Intel® OpenVINO™ toolkit for our computer vision,” says Shaw. “With Intel, we have the best technical solution.”
Pather.ai also relies on Global Solutions Distributor BlueStar, Inc., to bring its Spatial Intelligence solution to market through VARs and SIs specializing in the retail space. BlueStar works with an ecosystem of hardware, software, and other providers to build edge-to-cloud solutions designed to help retailers streamline operations and grow profitable sales. In addition to offering ready-to-deploy retail solutions, BlueStar backs them with service, support, logistics, and technology expertise.
Retail Analytics Address Today’s Challenges
Tracking dots allows Pathr.ai to address retailers’ biggest pain points. Lower foot traffic in stores due to an increase in eCommerce makes customers who enter a location more valuable, but staffing shortages can make it challenging to properly serve them.
“We’re able to optimize each customer’s experience,” says Shaw. “If they have a more enjoyable shopping experience, they may buy more things. And we can make more efficient use of each staff member’s time and ultimately require fewer staff hours, which have become scarcer and more expensive.”
For example, a jewelry counter inside a store may see only 10 customers a day. Instead of dedicating an employee to service a small percentage of customers, you can task the person with other work. When a customer needs help at the jewelry counter, Pathr.ai detects them and sends a notification to the employee.
“It’s zone defense instead of a person-to-person coverage,” says Shaw. “It’s a more efficient use of the people you have available through dynamic staff allocation.”
A major grocery store chain in the United States uses the solution’s real-time data to measure queue lengths and adjust the number of open checkouts. “In a grocery store, the checkout experience is a huge part of how grocers differentiate themselves,” says Shaw. “Many of them have similar products, store layouts, and promotions. So the experience you have at the checkout matters a lot.”
Pathr.ai measures queue lengths and understands wait times. The system can make a prediction on how long a customer with a full cart of groceries will wait. If the expected wait time goes above a threshold set by the grocer, it will notify a staff member to open another checkout. If all the checkouts are open, the grocer will open more self-checkouts.
When expanding its smaller deployments into much larger deployments, like a shopping mall, Pathr.ai had to deal with the unique processing, deployment, and infrastructure challenges these layouts presented.
The Future of Retail Technology Is Driven by Consumers
Going even further, Shaw sees spatial intelligence eventually being used to help retailers understand other pressing issues, such as shoplifting. “Discerning that behavior in real time in an anonymous and unbiased way can help end shoplifting,” he says. “That’s a benefit not just to our enterprise customers but to all of society.”
Meanwhile, retailers need an ability to understand changing consumer expectations and act on them to stay relevant, says Shaw. “It’s up to technology providers and retailers to align with consumer desires and expectations,” he says. “We need a way to understand what consumers want when they come into a physical location and act on that. To understand behavior, we need more and better data.”
BlueStar is the leading global distributor of solutions-based Digital Identification, Mobility, Point-of-Sale, RFID, IoT, AI, AR, M2M, Digital Signage, Networking, Blockchain, and Security technology solutions. BlueStar works exclusively with Value-Added Resellers (VARs) to provide complete solutions, custom configuration offerings, business development, and marketing support. The company brings unequaled expertise to the market, offers award-winning technical support, and is an authorized service center for a growing number of manufacturers. BlueStar is the exclusive distributor for the In-a-Box® Solutions Series, delivering hardware, software, and critical accessories all in one bundle with technology solutions across all verticals, as well as BlueStar’s Hybrid SaaS finance program to provide OPEX/subscription services for hardware, software, and service bundles. For more information, please contact BlueStar at 1-800-354-9776 or visit www.bluestarinc.com.