Smart glass can recognise numbers

We have smartphones, smartwatches, even smart fridges...
12 July 2019


A pair of glasses / spectacles


We have smartphones, smart watches, even smart fridges...

Now we can add to the list smart glass, which has the potential to recognise items without a camera, computer chip, or even a power supply.

The glass has been created by a team of researchers led by Erfan Khoram at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who published their work in the journal Photonics Research. All the glass needs is tiny imperfections called “bubbles” within its structure that direct and focus light from an object to specific locations on the other side of the glass. These locations are tailored to only accept light from very specific objects, allowing for a totally wireless alternative to machine visual perception.

“This glass helps us to do this entire visual perception task in a rather unconventional way: without a camera or without a computer chip,” said co-author Zongfu Yu.

As of right now the glass has the capability to tell, in real time, whether someone has written any number between 1 and 10, even if the numbers are written in different fonts. The glass is able to do this by focusing light from a number toward a specific region that only allows light from that exact number. This means that the light from a ten could get focused to a region closer to the top-end of the glass, while the light from the number four would then be focused to a different section, possibly more in the middle-end of the glass.

In order to also implement detection of varying penmanship, the team had to train a simulation to independently cycle through varying bubble placements.

“You go through this training iteration process hundreds of thousands of times and eventually the glass learns to generalise what it sees,” Yu said. Each run of the simulation gives a better bubble placement result than the last, which eventually amalgamates to identification accuracies as high as 85% in just a couple hours.

The overall goal for the team is not to assist in number detection, they are working towards replicating facial recognition capabilities that are indistinguishable from the software found in almost all smartphones, with one major security benefit.

Look at the camera on your laptop, do you have tape covering it? In terms of security, a camera connected to the internet can be accessed by someone other than yourself and the thought of someone watching you without permission is frightening. This is no longer an issue once you replace the camera sensor with smart glass to unlock your devices.

Since this smart glass is completely independent of internet and cameras, there is no chance anyone can access the technology remotely and record your personal life. As Yu said, “it doesn’t use energy, it doesn’t pass any data to the internet.”

In order to get the technology into our homes, it needs to be manufacturable. Though the training and processing time for the simulation can be slightly extensive, the glass makes up for that in fabrication. The glass itself has no expensive components, and can be printed layer by layer in a 3D printer. Meaning that, when the smart glass has been implemented into our homes in the future, it can be mass produced to supply our demands for very little cost at all.

According to Zongfu Yu, “3D printing capability has grown significantly over the past decades, and I would imagine it will do even better down the road.”


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