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From Testing Lipstick to Spotting Terrorists

Technology from beauty industry does a beautiful job of spotting bad guys

2 min read
From Testing Lipstick to Spotting Terrorists


Jean-Marc Robin, CEO of startup Vesalis from Clermont-Ferrand, France, got into the beauty industry, he says, “because I love women.” (That phrase in quotes should be read with a French accent if at all possible.) He seems somewhat surprised to find his company’s facial recognition technology, built to help department stores sell makeup, drawing interest from governments, French and otherwise. But he does love that they love the technology and its possibilities.

Talking with Robin during his visit to Palo Alto, Calif., last week, he definitely seemed like a man tugged in two directions. While he was happy to talk about the successes of the technology in security tests, he kept bringing the conversation back to its applications in department stores, guiding women to selections of hair color and makeup.

The company, started in 2005, has eight patents for its facial recognition technology. While it mainly had in mind department store kiosks, where shoppers use it to virtually test makeup applied to photographs taken of themselves, that’s not what has the security folks excited. It’s the video streams that, in the envisioned department store application, would come from existing security cameras that has them intrigued. In department stores, Vesalis’ software compares these relatively low quality images against a database of existing customers: When the system spots a known customer coming into the store, it sends an alert to an iPad carried by a salesperson. The salesperson can then quickly look at the customer’s picture, previous order history, and other information, greet the customer by name and perhaps suggest sale or other items she might be interested in.

This fast image recognition from low-quality video, in turns out, is just what security companies dream of, to compare people against a database of known “people of concern.” The French government invested €2 million in the company in 2009, and this past October, Vesalis tested its technology during a soccer game at the Parc des Princes, the largest soccer stadium in France. The system checked 20 000 people every 20 minutes against a database of 500 problem individuals and had an accuracy rate of 98 percent; competitive technology, said Michael Vannier, Vice President of U.S. Sales, has had an accuracy rate of 61 percent in similar tests. The company expects its technology, in the future, to be used in counterterrorism, border control, ATM access, and a variety of security applications. And, Robin hopes, at a few makeup counters.

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Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

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