Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Image analysis makes shopping simple

A 25-year old with a master's degree in computer science from Bristol University (Bristol, UK) has picked up a $100,000 cash prize after winning the Cisco British Innovation Gateway Awards for developing a novel image matching application that can take the drudgery out of shopping for clothes.

Jenny Griffiths -- one of only two women in her class of thirty at the university -- developed the idea after getting frustrated with attempting to locate and purchase clothes that she liked at a reasonable price. So she went out and used her new found knowledge to make the whole process a whole lot easier.

The result of her hard work is what's now known as "Snap Fashion" -- a visual search engine that lets consumers search for clothing using images instead of words.

In a nutshell, it comprises a free a smartphone app that a user first fires up to take an image of a product that she might like to buy but perhaps can't afford. The image is then delivered to the Snap Fashion server where algorithms developed by Griffiths automatically analyze it and return images of similar -- hopefully less expensive products -- from a variety of retailers' websites within five seconds. The results can then be filtered based on any aspect of the product -- such as the color and cut of a dress. Finally, an item can be purchased directly from the retailer, while Snap Fashion earns commission on every sale.

The net is cast wide courtesy of Snap Fashion's database, which currently counts more than 100 major retailers. It's a catalogue that boasts high street giants including Gap, Jigsaw, Jaeger, Uniqlo, Warehouse, L K Bennett, French Connection, Reiss, Monsoon, and Kurt Geiger, in addition to retailers from to to, and a host of department stores such as Harrods, Selfridges, Liberty, House of Fraser, and US fashion emporium Bloomingdales.

Not just a shopping tool, there are other tricks to Snap Fashion too, such as a personal shopping service that offers tips and advice on what styles best suit the user's personal body shape via body shape recognition technology.

The Cisco British Innovation Gateway Awards were launched this year with the aim of recognizing and supporting up-and-coming innovators, entrepreneurs and businesses. And naturally enough, I'm delighted that one of the first winners of the award has developed a product related to image analysis!

But if you are a budding inventor in the UK and feeling a bit miffed that you hadn't heard of the awards in time to enter them this year, don't worry. The good news is that the contest -- which aims to attract high-potential technology startups that are seeking investment and support -- is running over a five period.

More information on the Cisco British Innovation Gateway Awards can be found here. Snap Fashion's home page can be found here.

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