Innovate UK EDGE has helped a London-based provider of software and verification systems to find real world applications for a social distancing observation AI tool it developed through a £37,000 Innovate UK Covid-19 Fast Response grant.
As leader of a £3.8 million autonomous vehicle simulation project funded by Innovate UK, dRISK realised that it could re-purpose its technology to detect human beings in a Covid-19 restrictions scenario, rather than buses and cars.
The idea was to use anonymised CCTV images from publicly available JamCams across London, combined with algorithms devised by dRISK engineers, to measure in real-time the effectiveness of social distancing.
Powered by artificial intelligence, the cloud-based social distancing tool determines levels of human density, hour-by-hour changes and hotspots of activity, displaying the results in an easily interpreted form.
The tool even recognises couples walking together or adults with children and can differentiate them from others who may be ignoring social distancing rules.
Real-time measuring of Covid-19 social distancing with AI
Innovate UK EDGE business growth adviser Rifat Jan persuaded dRISK’s business development manager, Rav Babbra, that the innovation has strong commercial potential in other contexts.
A trial is soon to begin with a major London borough looking to solve problems around road crossings and keen to understand the implications of pavement widening, all part of the Vision Zero traffic safety strategy.
There has also been interest from a supermarket chain wanting to improve in-store social distancing and a prisons operator needing to anticipate and deter people throwing drugs and other contraband over perimeter walls.
Rav said: “My initial approach was too scatter-gun. Rifat helped me to narrow down the target audience.”
Innovate UK EDGE helped him explore other applications and then to redirect the marketing effort to local councils, who have responsibility for re-opening high streets and shopping centres safely. The wider benefits are in keeping retail staff employed and the economy moving.
Rav said: “I speak to Rifat once or twice a week, bouncing ideas off her. We’ve created pitches together, and she suggests ways of improving them.”
Up to 30 areas of opportunity
Rifat provides momentum to the commercialisation too. She said: “It’s not just about providing advice. I like to make things happen, with introductions and networking with local authorities.
“In terms of commercial opportunities, there are 20 or 30 areas to look at, including music venues, sports stadiums, gyms and leisure centres. You identify where there is the greatest need.”
So how he would have fared without the support from Innovate UK EDGE?
“Rifat is my ‘co-pilot’ on this project,” he said. “Without her help, we would still have taken on the project but probably only scratching the surface, pitching it just at Covid applications. We wouldn’t have realised what we could do with it."
The collaborative autonomous vehicles project, awarded £1.63 million from total funding of £3 million by Innovate UK, is due to be completed in early 2022.
Rav said: “The Fast Response grant kept our people working on technical tasks to deliver the social distancing toolbox. That also fed back into our autonomous vehicles project pipeline and the improved algorithms for our main AV product.”