By Stephen McBride
You can’t get through without passing the “heat seeking eye.” Last month, online shopping giant Amazon (AMZN) splashed out $10 million on 1,500 new cameras across its warehouses.
These aren’t any ol’ Kodaks. These thermal cameras take employees’ temperatures as they walk into the warehouse. They check for fevers, one of the main symptoms of the coronavirus. Take a look:
Green means your temperature is less than 99.1°F. You can keep walking. But a red box indicates you have a fever. You must be pulled aside for further screening. Thermal cameras are nothing new. But as I’ll show you today, they’re being turbocharged by the disruption of a lifetime.
NOBODY is talking about this disruption right now. But you’ll soon be hearing about it on 60 Minutes. In fact, it may hold the key to reopening America from the coronavirus lockdown.
Did You Ever Buy a Roomba?
Roomba’s are automated vacuum cleaners, and the world’s most successful home robot. But if you’ve ever owned one, you know it was always getting stuck on the edge of rugs and behind doors. In fact, it couldn’t even track where it had vacuumed. So it would regularly miss spots and go over others three or four times.
In short, Roombas were pretty dumb until they got the gift of sight. Maker iRobot fitted it with a tiny camera and a computer to “process” what it sees. Now it goes from room to room seamlessly moving in between chair legs. It can even “map” your whole house and figure out where it still needs to vacuum. The technology transforming Roombas into all-seeing machines is the same one Amazon uses to screen its workers.
I’m talking about “computer vision.” Computer vision is the kind of disruption that only comes around once a generation. In fact, Microsoft founder Bill Gates has called it “the next big thing to change computing.” Computers have always been able to count numbers and read text. But they could never master vision. In fact, in 2010, about the only thing a computer could do with a pile of photos was sort them by size.
But as regular RiskHedge readers know, this is all changing. Back in 2012, researchers rewired the way computers “see,” handing computers the gift of sight. It marked the first time in history a machine could identify objects better than a human. And machines gained a new superpower known as “computer vision.”
In short, computer vision transforms every camera lens into a pair of eyes that can understand what it “sees.” For example, Amazon’s cameras snap thermal images of workers. These images are then fed into a computer vision “algorithm” that tags anyone with a temperature above 99.1°F. And it can process roughly 200 people per minute, and within a 0.5°F accuracy range.
Nobody Is Talking About This New Disruption Yet
You likely haven’t heard much about computer vision before today. Until recently, it was mostly stuck inside university research departments. The only people I could find to discuss it were computer science nerds from Stanford and MIT.
But behind the scenes, my team and I at RiskHedge have been studying it for a long time. As far as I know, we’ve done more work on it than any other investment firm in the world. But we haven’t written about it publicly much until now—and that’s because the money-making opportunities are finally starting to emerge.
As I’ve said, the coronavirus is hitting the fast-forward button on dozens of disruptions. And it’s also accelerating computer vision. In fact, our research suggests this crisis is speeding up the industry by at least five years. In other words, breakthroughs which would have normally taken until 2025 are now happening as I type!
Oregon-based FLIR Systems (FLIR) is the world’s largest seller of thermal cameras. Demand for its FDA-certified cameras, which start at $6,500, have shot up 700% since March. Other companies we follow have sold more units in the past three months than in the previous five years!
Businesses Across America Are Going “All In” on Computer Vision
Remember, a fever is one of the main symptoms of the coronavirus. And thermal cameras—powered by computer vision algorithms—essentially act as “automated thermometers.” To keep their buildings virus-free, businesses across America are pouring money into computer vision “apps.”
When you walk up to the front door at Rush Medical Center in Chicago, a computer vision “iPad” takes your temperature. The app scans your face. Then you wait for a green tick to enter. You can see it in action here:
Smartphone giant Samsung used a similar system at its conference back in March. To register, attendees walked past a thermal camera. The lens was hooked up to a computer vision app that tagged anyone with a temperature above 99.1°F.
And it’s not only big powerful companies like Amazon and Samsung using computer vision. Wynn Resorts’ (WYNN) casino in Las Vegas is using it to get the poker tables running again. Atlanta grocery chain City Farmers Market installed cameras made by FLIR Systems at the entrances of its stores. You can see it scanning shoppers as they enter, here.
Computer Vision Is the Key to Reopening America
Businesses across the US are chomping at the bit to open their doors. But first they must prove they can do it safely.
Can Disneyland be bustling with kids in the era of the coronavirus? How will 80,000 football fans pack into Dallas Cowboy’s stadium safely? Could Atlanta’s airport ever run at full capacity again…with 270,000 passengers flying in and out each day?
We know all these things will happen at some point. And computer vision is going to play a key role in reopening America.
Picture this: you walk to Chipotle to grab some lunch. But before you can go inside, an automated system takes your temperature. A tablet with a computer vision app scans your face at the door. It shows you’re a healthy 98.6°F, and a green tick appears on the screen as the door clicks open.
Some version of this “virus-free” system will become the new normal at stadiums, airports, retail stores, theme parks, and offices across America. And detecting the coronavirus using computer vision technology is only the first step.
Right now practically every scientist in the world is working on “solving” the coronavirus. For example, China’s largest company Alibaba developed a computer vision app that can identify coronavirus in a CT scan with 97% accuracy.
It’s only a matter of time before researchers discover more accurate—and efficient—ways to catch it. Again, this is just the beginning. When my team and I started digging into computer vision, it wasn’t really talked about outside Stanford and MIT’s research departments. But that will change—soon. You’ve heard it here first.
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