Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Penn start-up uses AI to avoid racial profiling while protecting stores from shoplifters

By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

A University of Pennsylvania start-up has developed an AI technology that helps keep shopping areas secure while avoiding racial-, gender- or age-based profiling.

Rather than using regular video surveillance, Percepta tracks shoppers’ body movements to anonymously detect when people look up for cameras or sneak products into their clothing. If Percepta’s system determines that a person is likely stealing, it sends an image of that person via a mobile app to the store’s security staff, who ultimately decide whether to intervene or not.

The co-founders of Percepta, all Penn undergraduates, call it “ethical” artificial intelligence. “It’s a social good, but it’s also a competitive advantage,” says co-founder and CEO Philippe Sawaya. “We’ve seen that the public perception of AI is that it can be biased, and the public just isn’t going to accept that.”

Percepta has raised $77,000 so far, including a prize from the Penn Wharton Startup Challenge at the start of the month. The company plans to use the funds to further develop its technology and begin marketing efforts.

According to co-founder Neil Gramopadhye, Percepta will pilot the security system in smaller spaces like the Penn bookstore before making plans to move on to big chains like Target or Walmart.

“It’s part of our large vision that we want to be the new standard in retail,” Gramopadhye says. “When you see this store uses Percepta, you know you won’t be racially profiled.” Source:

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