A New Business Intelligence Tool for Retailers

By Michael Feldman

January 14, 2009

With retail sales in their biggest slump since record-keeping began in 1992, businesses are desperately looking for ways to boost the bottom line. Improving productivity in existing stores with technologies like video analytics may turn out to be one of the most effective ways to accomplish this.

Sophisticated video analytics can help businesses assess shopping behavior by tracking customer behavior in aggregate and building up a repository of historical data. The information retailers are interested in has to do with where people are spending their time in the store, the effectiveness of store advertising displays, the demographics of visitors, and just generally how customer traffic is flowing through the store. The idea is to help retailers increase revenue and store productivity by optimizing merchandise choices and placement.

In the past, retailers convinced random customers to carry around tracking devices, so their shopping activities could be monitored. But this only provided a qualitative view of shopper behavior. Video analytics promises a quantitative view. For the most part, these analytics systems use video feeds from existing security cameras. But whereas the security video is mostly being examined manually — either in real time or as a result of some past mischief — video analytics can repurpose that same data stream to provide business intelligence for improving store operations.

Canadian startup LightHaus Logic is one of the pioneers in this area, providing high-performance video analytics applications for a variety of commercial settings. This week the company introduced Equinox Visual Intelligence solutions for the retail industry, which are currently under trial by a number of top retailers.

The LightHaus system distills terabytes of digitized video data into graphics-based reports that encapsulate customer activity over some a period of time. It aggregates a variety of information, such as the number of people at certain locations in the store and if they are standing still or moving (and in what direction). The system can also gather more specific information like effectiveness of the coveted end-of-aisle displays — the so-called “end-cap” displays. More sophisticated analytics, like identifying a shopper’s age, gender and ethnicity, can also be obtained in order to determine demographic shopping preferences.

Being able to condense hundreds or thousands of hours of video into actionable intelligence is the goal. “You don’t want to look at a month of video from several cameras,” explains Mario Palumbo, chief technology officer at LightHaus Logic. “You’d like a snapshot that shows you the whole story.”

The LightHaus offering uses a proprietary video gateway appliance and compute-intensive image processing software to convert the digitized video data into “metadata” that encapsulates customer activity in the store. The trick is processing multiple video feeds in real time. Because of the nature of the application, the hardware’s pedigree is from the embedded world, where real-time signal processing is a common type of workload. The LightHaus gateway appliance is a 1U box and uses multiple processors (general purpose CPUs and/or FPGAs) connected via PCIe or Ethernet links. An external disk is used for local storage of video and metadata.

Depending upon the resolution of the video feeds and the different types of analysis being run (occupancy numbers, demographics, display effectiveness, etc.), a single appliance will typically handle between five to 20 video streams. For large setups, multiple appliances can be hooked together. In this case the software auto-detects the other LightHaus boxes and one of them gets arbitrarily assigned to be the head node.

A certain amount of configuration is needed to set up system parameters like store layout and types of analysis. Palumbo says they try to make the configuration setup as easy as possible, since retailers typically don’t have a great deal of IT expertise. A lot of the larger operations like Home Depot and Wal-Mart employ system integrators to manage computer and video infrastructure, and these subcontractors would end up doing the configuration.

The most user-friendly part of the system is the report and data mining tools. The analytics-derived metadata is presented to the retailer in graphs and tables, with additional functionality provided for examining real-time and historical data. The whole system can be accessed via a standard Web browser interface, either locally or remotely. This allows large retailers to slice and dice the data produced from multiple stores and access it from any location.

LightHaus’ focus on business intelligence may prove to be a good move. Palumbo notes that although video analytics is a hot technology right now, most of the company’s potential competitors are focused on applying the technology to surveillance and security applications, where discrete event detection is the name of the game. In the retail world, businesses are less interested in event detection than in overall trends and aggregate statistics, which require a very different approach.

The current technology being offered can’t provide all the answers, though. For example, the LightHaus system is not able to determine which way the customer is facing. So in a store with different products in a narrow aisle, the analysis probably wont be able to determine what item caught the customer’s attention. Also, the cause of “hot spots” — where people linger for long periods of time — can be ambiguous. Hot spots might be the result of shoppers’ interest in a nearby product or their confusion by the related display.

But the systems are likely to become more sophisticated over time as hardware becomes more powerful and as providers like LightHaus refine the technology. At a time when retail shopping behavior is undergoing some big changes, video analytics may become a technology that businesses can’t afford to be without.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

UCSD, AIST Forge Tighter Alliance with AI-Focused MOU

January 18, 2018

The rich history of collaboration between UC San Diego and AIST in Japan is getting richer. The organizations entered into a five-year memorandum of understanding on January 10. The MOU represents the continuation of a 1 Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Tennessee), Satoshi Matsuoka (Tokyo Institute of Technology), Read more…

By John Russell

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown and Spectre security updates on the performance of popular H Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE and NREL Take Steps to Create a Sustainable, Energy-Efficient Data Center with an H2 Fuel Cell

As enterprises attempt to manage rising volumes of data, unplanned data center outages are becoming more common and more expensive. As the cost of downtime rises, enterprises lose out on productivity and valuable competitive advantage without access to their critical data. Read more…

Fostering Lustre Advancement Through Development and Contributions

January 17, 2018

Six months after organizational changes at Intel's High Performance Data (HPDD) division, most in the Lustre community have shed any initial apprehension around the potential changes that could affect or disrupt Lustre Read more…

By Carlos Aoki Thomaz

UCSD, AIST Forge Tighter Alliance with AI-Focused MOU

January 18, 2018

The rich history of collaboration between UC San Diego and AIST in Japan is getting richer. The organizations entered into a five-year memorandum of understandi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Te Read more…

By John Russell

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fostering Lustre Advancement Through Development and Contributions

January 17, 2018

Six months after organizational changes at Intel's High Performance Data (HPDD) division, most in the Lustre community have shed any initial apprehension aroun Read more…

By Carlos Aoki Thomaz

SRC Spends $200M on University Research Centers

January 16, 2018

The Semiconductor Research Corporation, as part of its JUMP initiative, has awarded $200 million to fund six research centers whose areas of focus span cognitiv Read more…

By John Russell

When the Chips Are Down

January 11, 2018

In the last article, "The High Stakes Semiconductor Game that Drives HPC Diversity," I alluded to the challenges facing the semiconductor industry and how that may impact the evolution of HPC systems over the next few years. I thought I’d lift the covers a little and look at some of the commercial challenges that impact the component technology we use in HPC. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Momentum Builds for US Exascale

January 9, 2018

2018 looks to be a great year for the U.S. exascale program. The last several months of 2017 revealed a number of important developments that help put the U.S. Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This