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Mitsubishi’s Successfully Develops Crowd Surveillance A.I.

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Mitsubishi Electric has developed a system using artificial intelligence technology that can monitor crowds and pick out particular individuals.

Applications for the system include scanning commercial areas for people acting suspiciously or simply needing assistance.

The Japanese electronics maker said the video-based system utilizes deep learning technology, through which a computer can learn the characteristics of specific objects.

The company hopes to market the system by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when huge numbers of visitors are expected to descend on the Japanese capital.

The system monitors video feeds from security cameras and detects individuals that fit predetermined characteristics automatically and in real time. It can detect, for example, someone carrying a suspicious item, such as a plastic fuel can, someone pushing a stroller or an elderly person walking with a cane. It can also recognize specific movements so that it can alert security personnel to someone walking erratically.

One demonstration video shows several people walking. As soon as a person with a fuel can comes into view, the system highlights them with a white rectangular frame.

Hidenobu Kanda, chief of Mitsubishi’s security systems department, said the use of deep learning technology makes programming easier to define attributes for people with specific characteristics.

In order to be able to recognize a stroller, the system first memorizes images taken of the object from various angles. Using this knowledge, it can automatically spot someone pushing a stroller passing in front of the security camera. Precision in detecting a specific image improves as the system builds on previous experience.

Conventional image recognition systems, in contrast, need to learn many more details of the objects’ characteristics, necessitating complex programming. In the case of a person, it would need to first learn that a human pedestrian is an object with a width-to-height ratio of 2-to-8 that moves at a speed of about 20kph at the most, and so on. It would then need to learn the details of the stroller before it can recognize a person pushing it.

Mitsubishi said its system is particularly useful in commercial facilities and event venues, enabling crowd-management staff to come to the aid of people who need assistance or security guards to monitor people acting suspiciously. The electronics maker wants to introduce system by Tokyo Olympics. Mitsubishi also eyes other applications for the system. In a joint effort with researchers from the University of Tokyo, the company is developing an image-analysis system that predicts how congested different routes between an event venue and the nearest station will become. For this, the company plans to use the AI crowd monitoring system to extract a demographic profile of pedestrians so that organizers can address the different needs of attendees.

Although Mitsubishi aims for a commercial introduction of the system by 2020, some issues remain to be solved.

One is the question of where to set the degree of detection precision amid varied needs expected by customers. Although facility owners will want a high precision when it comes to detecting specific individuals entering a venue, detecting individuals acting suspiciously will require a different level of precision.

Kanda said the company would need to feed more data into the deep-learning system to raise accuracy, but this will result in higher costs.

In terms of the number of images the system needs to learn, Kanda said opinions are divided among the development team with some saying 100 to 1,000 images per object would be enough, while others insist on over 10,000 images.

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This article was produced by Grendz.

Entrepreneurship

Can Coworking Spaces Save Retail?

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Coworking spaces have served a plethora of modern workers through physical spaces. There have been office blocks, private member clubs, coffee shops and more. Now, there’s a new trend on the horizon: coworking spaces in shopping centres. Whilst this might be an innovative environment for coworking spaces, the arrangement also forms part of the retail industry’s move towards a new shopping mall model emerging in 2030. This trend isn’t constrained by any region; it’s unfolding on a global level with hotspots including San Francisco, Dublin, Shanghai, Melbourne or Moscow. What has the journey involved to date?

It didn’t take long for 2017 to be coined ‘the year of the great retail apocalypse.’ Retailers closed an unprecedented number of stores with many filing for bankruptcy (such as Toys ‘R’ Us), whilst shopping malls simultaneously faced growing pressure to survive declining demand for physical retail space.

Diversification of tenants and technological enhancements might have been pursued by shopping centers as survival strategies in the past, but now are we seeing coworking spaces enter the mix. Coworking operators are taking space in shopping centers and shopping centers are developing their own coworking brands.

Why are Shopping Centers an Option for Coworking Spaces?

Retailers are taking less space and more space is available. Shopping center investment slowed over the past few years and renting space has become cheaper. Forecasts back in 2015 predicted a 20-25%rental decrease in Hong Kong. In 2016 retail investment in the Netherlands was down by 40%. In 2017 Manhattan retail rents fell by 13.4%, Canada had an average 30% retail vacancy rate, Australia’s retail investor intentions dropped by 10% and UK shopping center investment fell by 45%. Now in 2018, the likes of Ginza High Street in Japan are set to hit their lowest rent rates towards the end of the year.

Shopping malls have already tried filling space with hospitality and leisure facilities in the form of restaurants, cinemas, bowling alleys and even indoor ski facilities. However, these offerings aren’t quite enough to avoid the approximate 30% closure of space required for shopping center supply to meet tenant demand.

E-commerce giants continue their notorious online role as the major driving force behind decreasing demand for physical retail space, not to mention the shift in consumer spending from goods to lifestyle experiences. Further diversification is required and it’s starting to take the shape of coworking spaces.

Shopping Mall Owners and Coworking Brands

Westfield, in partnership with Forest City, is one of the first major retail outlets to develop their own coworking brand. In 2015, Bespokeopened on the 4th floor of Westfield San Francisco Centre. The 40,000 sq ft space is designed specifically as a retail-tech ecosystem supporting coworking, events, demos and pop up shops. The space is home to corporate and start-up members spanning industries such as payments, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, experiential, e-commerce, retail analytics and more. Bespoke hit full capacity after just 6 months.

For Bespoke, the main opportunity lies in bridging the gap between startups and big-box retailers. Kimiko Thornton, Senior Director of Innovation at Bespoke highlights, “Bespoke focuses on converging the digital and physical by curating a portfolio of members who are actively working to improve the retail landscape. Members are selectively identified by Bespoke and are connected to the C-Suites of Fortune 500 companies through our corporate innovation tours. Through this program, members benefit from access to retail executives and the opportunity to run pilots in a multi-faceted, consumer-facing environment. Retailers benefit first-hand from early access to the latest retail innovations.”

So, why would a shopping center invest in their own coworking brand instead of letting space to an operator? Kimiko notes some of the benefits: “Driving thought leadership in the industry, bringing in over 100k incremental visitors to our Centre annually, and getting early access to test and support retail innovators are just a few of the benefits. By being connected, we’ve given our startups the opportunity to run successful trials throughout our properties. Examples include Hemster, the on-demand alterations service and July Systems, the retail industry’s best location intelligence and engagement platform.”

In terms of membership types, private offices have been Bespoke’s highest area of demand; offices sold out before opening and an additional office suite was built quickly. With that being said, Kimiko explains how “demand can shift from one type of membership to another within a matter of months. This is why creating a flexible space is so important; we can easily adapt to fluctuating demand. Members do get acquired and outgrow us into their own offices, but we encourage this as we welcome fresh talent on a rolling basis.”

Atmosphere is another coworking space owned by a shopping center, situated outside Moscow’s city center towards the southwest where no coworking spaces have ventured before. The space features a conference hall and is ran by Atmosphere’s multi-business mother company, Tashir, renowned for its largest chain of shopping malls in Russia.

George Engibaryan, Business Development Manager at Atmosphere, explains how “Atmosphere is part of Tashir’s aims to diversify its assets. Running our own coworking space allows us to do this without sharing revenues with an operator. The coworking market in Moscow is still in its early development stages, meaning Atmosphere is a good business opportunity given the current low supply of operators.” Similarly to Bespoke, Atmosphere is located on a higher floor (6th), which might typically be associated with less tenant demand. Yet in this case, Atmosphere benefits from ‘a perfect oval shape and lot of natural light under a panoramic roof’.

The principle challenge faced by Atmosphere is the coworker mindset that business is done within the city center, rather than outside it. George addresses this issue by highlighting how members can avoid time wasted in congested traffic and still enjoy a workspace with a nearby cinema, restaurants and supermarkets.

Atmosphere initially experienced high demand for private offices and currently operates at 80-85% occupancy, but they now see a more equal distribution of demand amongst desk and membership types with open areas preferred by freelancers. Although there is no strict member vetting process, Atmosphere attracts innovative startups through their internal investment fund and explicitly excludes companies making excessive phone calls to avoid disruption to other members.

Operators Taking Shopping Mall Space

On the flipside, we see independant coworking spaces signing leases with shopping centers. Dogpatch Labs is a start-up hub centrally located in Dublin’s digital docklands and is CHQ’s largest tenant. The 1820s shopping center lets space to interesting tenants including the EPIC Museum, is close to the rail station and surrounded by likes of LinkedIn, Facebook and more.

Located across the first 3 floors of CHQ, Membership Manager Jake Phillips states Dogpatch benefits from “being a touch point for well over 8,000 people walking past every day. We built the retail location as a strategic mechanism to deliver our brand values of community and innovation. We are also involved with corporate initiatives; CHQ recently supported Mastercard with their app pilot focusing on the city’s demographic spending data. Being situated in a retail environment means we can also deliver a live storefront.”

Given the historic protection of the converted wine and tobacco warehouse as a Grade A listed building, the fit out costs for Dogpatch were more expensive than a non-retail space. However, the company has seen high returns as a result of the investment. Jake explains how “the investment pays when focus is on design. We built a strong relationship with the landlord through a co-branded building strategy to become a unified, authentic Irish brand and top 10 tourist destination. This journey involved strategic partnerships such as those with Google for Entrepreneurs, community involvement through local food discounts and weekly metric reports.”

Renting space from a shopping center can be a challenge in terms of opening hours beyond the operators control. Dogpatch have many software development teams working early and late hours, but thanks to their strong relationship with the landlord, they’re able to make alternative arrangements for their own operating hours. Dogpatch is also surrounded by alternative laptop hotspots, but with local farmer-grown coffee and a strong ecosystem, member applications aren’t affected. Dogpatch’s typical members include corporates seeking to innovate and start-ups seeking post seed or angel investment to Series A.

Like many spaces, private offices are Dogpatch’s most popular membership type, but Jake emphasises that “the private offices are golden; we reserve and allocate them selectively to growing members. The private offices aren’t listed on our website as we don’t want to be seen as an ‘office solution’. Most of our small teams work from dedicated desks in open space.”

The Verdict

Whether the coworking space is landlord or operator ran, there are a few key ingredients for success: community-based ecosystems as opposed to office solutions, partnerships with retail-tech startups and corporates, utilization of the retail environment for product testing, investment in design and flexibility and a criteria for member selection.

Key benefits include close proximity to leisure facilities, strong transport links and parking space, position at the forefront of retail innovation, extra visibility for increased footfall and popular uptake of private office memberships. The main challenges for operators include lack of control over building operations, potential lack of daylight and opening hours, along with frequent positioning in remaining space on higher floors. The main challenge for shopping center owners is the decision to share revenue by letting space to an operator or launch their own coworking brand as a new entrant to the workspace market.

What Does the Future Look Like?

Given the optimism around coworking within shopping centers, it’s no surprise that CBRE predict shopping centers to reinvent themselves as mixed-use ‘Centers’ by 2030. Who will be the first to get there? Western Australia is particularly active as a leading region for the lifestyle revolution of shopping centers. The Government’s ‘Direction 2031’ removes limitations on the size of retail developments and encourages the development of ‘activity centers’.

The future of coworking within shopping centers is described by Kimiko Thornton as a ‘no-brainer’: “As the retail ecosystem evolves, consumers expect dynamic experiences beyond the traditional storefront. Coworking ultimately contributes to the restructuring of the entire experiential landscape. It’s a trend shopping centers are exploring at a global level.”

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About the Author

This article was produced by Deskmag. Deskmag is the magazine about the new type of work and their places, how they look, how they function, how they could be improved and how we work in them. They especially focus on coworking spaces which are home to the new breed of independent workers and small companies. see more.

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Entrepreneurship

Toyota Moving into A.I. with ex-Google Robot Specialists

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Toyota Motor seeks to assemble a staff of 1,000 engineers from Japan and abroad into a new unit meant to turn its research on automated driving into road-ready technology.

The Nagoya-based automaker’s race to develop self-driving cars pits it against increasingly international competition for engineering talent, as foreign employers like China’s Huawei Technologies use pay and other incentives to attract IT graduates from Japanese universities.

The car company said Friday it will establish joint venture Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development this month with autoparts makers Aisin Seiki and Denso, both Toyota group members. Other companies may join in down the road.

TRI-AD will start with a staff of around 300, with about two-thirds from Toyota and the rest mainly from Aisin and Denso. The venture will use English as its official language, and locate its headquarters in Tokyo, where universities and research institutions gather. The aim is to attract talent from across the world.

The founding companies will invest more than 300 billion yen ($2.84 billion) over several years in TRI-AD, which will develop artificial-intelligence-driven software for such tasks as image recognition, as well as judging driving conditions and generating detailed maps.

Toyota aims to begin releasing automated vehicles in earnest in 2020. By that year, it seeks to have practical technology for automated highway driving, with secondary roads to follow in the first half of that decade. It also aims to make cars capable of fully autonomous driving in limited areas.

In 2016, the Japanese automaker set up U.S. R&D arm Toyota Research Institute to conduct basic research on automated driving and has been working on its own to develop practical applications. TRI-AD will pool the technologies and talent of Toyota affiliates toward that end, an effort driven by the automaker’s sense that it cannot compete with big, deep-pocketed tech groups like Google on its own.

Denso will provide strength in image recognition, based on its work on advanced driver-assistance systems, which use cameras and sensors to help avoid collisions. Aisin supplies transmission and brake components, and has been working independently on automated driving. Bringing in parts makers from the development stage will enable a deeper integration of hardware and software, an approach crucial for automated vehicles.

James Kuffner, who headed research on automated driving at Google’s robotics team, will be CEO of TRI-AD. Kuffner currently serves as chief technology officer at TRI. Gill Pratt, the U.S. institute’s CEO, will be chairman of the new TRI-AD board of directors..

With cross-industry competition in transportation intensifying, Toyota aims to reinforce its development programs with talent from inside and outside the company. In January, it announced partnerships with companies including Amazon.com and Chinese ride-hailing leader Didi Chuxing to offer automated-driving-based services such as deliveries and rides. Last year, Toyota formed an electric vehicle joint venture with Denso and automaker Mazda Motor. It has also linked up with electronics group and Tesla partner Panasonic to develop and produce batteries.

Other Japanese automakers are also building research units that offer different corporate cultures and employee incentives from the parent company in order to attract outside talent. Nissan Motor plans to increase its domestic software engineering workforce to 300, and in 2016 it established a Tokyo development center for connected cars and other technologies. Honda Motor began work last year at a research hub in the capital that serves as a channel for open innovation partnerships with other companies.

 

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