Any fan of the British TV science fiction series Dr. Who will be only too familiar with one of his oldest arch enemies, a race of creatures called the Autons -- life-sized living showroom dummies that stagger about the streets blowing up anything in their path using weapons concealed within their hands.
When they first appeared on the show back in the 1970s, the Autons created quite a stir amongst the Dr. Who fan base. Despite the fact that they did not look particularly realistic, there was something quite terrifying about their dumb, robotic like movements and expressionless faces that struck fear into the audience at the time.
Since the 1970s, robotics technology has, of course, come a long way. While it might have seemed inconceivable back then that showroom dummies might one day be equipped with any technology to make them more lifelike, or indeed, more intimidating, today it's almost expected of them!
The folks at Kee Square (Milan, Italy) and Almax (Mariano Comense, Italy) a leading manufacturer of mannequins would surely be the first to agree.
For just recently the two companies took the wraps off a new mannequin that embraces an intelligent analytical vision system that can help shop owners across the world "observe" and analyze who is attracted to items in their stores and reveal important details about them such as their age range, gender and race.
The mannequin itself has a camera installed in its head that captures the facial features of people passing through a store -- data which is then analyzed by software to provide statistical and contextual information about them to the store owners. The embedded software can also provide data such as the number of people passing in front of a window and at what times of day they did so.
Fortunately for store customers, the new mannequins are not quite as sophisticated as the Autons in Dr. Who. Although they are somewhat more attractive, they are not, for example, able to move. Nor do they come equipped with any sort of weaponry such as ray guns with which to inflict harm upon innocent shoppers.
But perhaps the best feature about them is that they are made of shock-proof polystyrene and finished with water based paints. That means that when the time comes for them to retire they can be easily recycled into something more useful.
More information on the mannequins can be found here. More information on Dr. Who can be found here.