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Bionic mannequins spy on shoppers

Bionic mannequins equipped with police-grade technology are being used by fashion stores to spy on shoppers, it has been revealed.  According to Bloomberg.com, the 5,000-dollar dummies, called EyeSee, use facial recognition software as a noninvasive way to extract data from customers who walk by, including roundabout age, race and gender, the New York Daily News reported.

A tiny camera embedded in one of the mannequin’s eyes records the information.
The info can be used to help stores cater to their customer base.

For example, one store that learned many of its afternoon visitors were kids introduced a children’s line to boost sales.Another that learned many of its customers were Asian opted to put Chinese-speaking employees near the entrance, according to the website.Although the mannequins only record information — not photographs — creeped-out shoppers voiced concern online. “Privacy invasion taken to a whole new level,” one Twitter user wrote.

However, others embraced the new technology. “Amazing,” another person tweeted. “The latest weapon retailers have to understand shoppers.” Italian security company Almax, which makes the mannequins, won’t disclose every store that uses them, but said its clients include leading fashion brands. The dummies are already used in the US and three European countries.

Almax is also testing software that allows the mannequins to listen to shoppers’ conversations, the company’s CEO Max Catanese said.

Implant lets the blind stream Braille directly onto retinas

Researchers have for the very first time streamed braille patterns directly into a blind patient's retina, allowing him to read four-letter words accurately and quickly with an ocular neuroprosthetic device. The device, the Argus II, has been implanted in over 50 patients, many of who can now see colour, movement and objects.

It uses a small camera mounted on a pair of glasses, a portable processor to translate the signal from the camera into electrical stimulation, and a microchip with electrodes implanted directly on the retina. Researchers at Second Sight, the company who developed the device, conducted the study. “In this clinical test with a single blind patient, we bypassed the camera that is the usual input for the implant and directly stimulated the retina. Instead of feeling the braille on the tips of his fingers, the patient could see the patterns we projected and then read individual letters in less than a second with up to 89 per cent accuracy,” explained researcher Thomas Lauritzen, lead author of the paper.

Similar in concept to successful cochlear implants, the visual implant uses a grid of 60 electrodes—attached to the retina—to stimulate patterns directly onto the nerve cells.
For this study, the researchers at Second Sight used a computer to stimulate six of these points on the grid to project the braille letters. A series of tests were conducted with single letters as well as words ranging in length from two letters up to four. The patient was shown each letter for half a second and had up to 80 per cent accuracy for short words.

“There was no input except the electrode stimulation and the patient recognised the braille letters easily. This proves that the patient has good spatial resolution because he could easily distinguish between signals on different, individual electrodes,” said Lauritzen.  

Ocean currents can predict extent of Arctic sea ice

Researchers at MIT have developed a new method for optimally combining models and observations to accurately simulate the seasonal extent of Arctic sea ice and the ocean circulation beneath. The team applied its synthesis method to produce a simulation of the Labrador Sea, off the southern coast of Greenland, that matched actual satellite and ship-based observations in the area.

Through their model, the researchers identified an interaction between sea ice and ocean currents that are important for determining what’s called “sea ice extent” — where, in winter, winds and ocean currents push newly formed ice into warmer waters, growing the ice sheet. Furthermore, springtime ice melt may form a “bath” of fresh seawater more conducive for ice to survive the following winter.

Accounting for this feedback phenomenon is an important piece in the puzzle to precisely predict sea-ice extent, said Patrick Heimbach, a principal research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “Until a few years ago, people thought we might have a seasonal ice-free Arctic by 2050. But recent observations of sustained ice loss make scientists wonder whether this ice-free Arctic might occur much sooner than any models predict,” Heimbach stated.

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