Edinburgh tech start-up develops sensor that could help physical distancing

A technology start-up based at the Edinburgh Business School (EBS) Incubator at Heriot-Watt University has developed a sensor that could help physical distancing as lockdown eases.
Alex Bowen is a recent Heriot-Watt graduate who founded the business in 2018.Alex Bowen is a recent Heriot-Watt graduate who founded the business in 2018.
Alex Bowen is a recent Heriot-Watt graduate who founded the business in 2018.

Imerai’s tech uses echolocation instead of light to receive images in a similar way to a bat which uses sound to understand its surroundings. The resulting picture appears without identifiable data so that privacy is protected.

Focusing initially on domestic applications, the artificial intelligence (AI) breakthrough is essential for privacy in the home.

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However, the sensor’s applications are likely to be wide ranging, including facilitating physical distancing in office buildings and supporting those with dementia and other assisted living needs.

Imerai has now attracted sufficient investment to build a full engineering team with the addition of five roles.

Alex Bowen, a recent Heriot-Watt graduate who founded the business in 2018, said: “To train and build an AI [system] you need to teach it how to interpret information which is most often described by a human.

“All AIs need to constantly learn and adapt to understand the world like we do. But industry continues to face the challenge of how to teach AI about what happens in people’s homes without invading users’ privacy from human oversight or camera use.

“As with many problems, nature had the solution. In the wild, bats send out a screech and they listen for the echoes to understand distances and the location of physical objects. In this way, the bat can interpret its surroundings.

“Our sensors work in a similar way using echolocation to create a picture without any identifying data so that privacy is protected.”

Kallum Russell of EBS added: “Imerai is one of 22 companies located at the Incubator. We are supporting these through the impact of lockdown.”

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