The Startup Behind The Facial Recognition Fever Detection Tech In Malls

Face recognition technology emerged in the 1960s.

Fascinated by this, Varun Chatterji had spent more than two years learning and mastering various image recognition techniques and while he was there he achieved a specialization in computer vision based on deep learning.

He then conceptualized Seventh Sense, an AI technology company that focuses on creating energy-efficient and low-cost computer vision systems.

In response to the fight against the pandemic, they have implemented a derivative of their technology in AI-based facial recognition fever detection solutions placed in shopping malls and healthcare facilities in Singapore.

This facial recognition and thermal camera processing technology allows these public places to do away with manual screening.

Pioneer of mobile security

Varun Chatterji’s name might not ring a bell immediately, but this man has co-founded various startups – at least one of which would trigger your memory.

In 2003, he met one of the co-founders of his first startup Darius Cheung (he is the founder of the real estate portal 99.co) during the NUS Overseas Colleges Program (NoC) in Silicon Valley.

Varun graduated in computer science in 2005 and created tenCube with Darius and two other co-founders, Rishi and Indradeep, soon after.

(Left to right) Varun Chatterji, Darius Cheung and other tenCube co-founders, Indradeep Biswas and Rishi Israni / Image credit: Knowledge Enterprise

The startup pioneered mobile security and personal information management (contacts, SMS, emails, phone calls, etc.) for the emerging smartphone market.

“We built” mobile software “before the term” application “became fashionable,” said Varun.

His clients included the Singapore Police Force, the Defense and Scientific Technology Agency (DSTA), Center for Strategic Information Technology (CSIT).

Image Credit: NUS

He placed Singapore on the world map when McAfee acquired tenCube in 2010. It was also then that he joined the McAfee team, but left in 2012 when he s rather interested in computer vision.

Originally from India, the 39-year-old was quick to tell us that he “almost didn’t come to Singapore”. He had originally enrolled in an undergraduate course in physics at St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi, but he “really wanted to study computer science.”

Seeing how five of his best friends got admitted to local universities here, he applied to and entered the National University of Singapore. He only joined the NoC program in his third year.

“So you could say that if I hadn’t been part of [NUS] and NoC, my life could be very different, ”he laughed.

Startup itch

After tenCube, Varun began exploring computer vision to make smart toys for children and niche equipment like smart mobile tripods.

These smart gadgets could record a variety of standard shots for videography (smooth pan, smooth zoom, etc.) to make life easier for amateur filmmakers.

These ideas unfortunately did not take off, so he started Sent.ly, which focused on providing customer support through text messaging.

It was during Sent.ly’s time that he met Sam, one of his Seventh Sense co-founders.

Sam was introduced by Ashish (another co-founder of Seventh Sense), whom Varun had known since childhood in Kanpur. Later, Sam became a member of the Sent.ly board of directors.

With the emergence of messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and WeChat, the relevance of SMS has declined rapidly, as has Sent.ly.

Before closing it in 2017, they tried to move on to introducing chatbot and chatbot automation for customer support.

The pivot to chatbots interested me in Machine Learning and AI. After Sent.ly, I took an online course in Big Data and Social Analysis taught by Alex Pentland from MIT.

– Varun Chatterji, co-founder and chief software architect of Seventh Sense

The course was an interesting blend of economics and machine learning, and inspired him to research his other works – that’s how he discovered Alex Pentland’s work on facial recognition.

“Facial recognition was quite exciting for me, especially given my previous interest in computer vision, and the following year I trained in various image recognition techniques and also completed a specialization. in Deep Learning on Coursera taught by Andrew Ng, ”said Varun.

Varun Chatterji, founder and chief software architect of Seventh Sense

Together with Ashish and Sam, a veteran CFO and former board member of Sent.ly, they founded Seventh Sense in 2017.

Ashish had made his first attempt at AI in college and had spent months working on implementing fuzzy logic and artificial neural networks in hardware. He eventually gave up, attributing “being two decades too early”.

I started to develop a prototype system on small equipment with low consumption and computational constraints.

This has sparked the interest of several units within the Singapore Ministry of Defense (Mindef) ecosystem, such as DSTA, FSTD, and subsequently, Cap Vista, the strategic investment arm and separate subsidiary. entire DSTA, a statutory council under Mindef.

– Varun Chatterji, co-founder and chief software architect of Seventh Sense

Finding your vocation in your third start-up

With his third company, Seventh Sense, Varun found an intersection of his interest in security, machine learning and computer vision.

“Over the next year, we continued to develop our technology. Along the way, we have undergone extensive due diligence processes from multiple parties within Mindef, ST Engineering, SingTel, etc. Subsequently, Cap Vista and 500 Startups came (on board) as investors, “he said.

Image Credit: Seventh Sense

In the early years of the company before the funding, Seventh Sense was “fully financially supported by Ashish and Sam,” said Varun. Both had day jobs and mainly provided him with food to work on his ideas.

Three years later, they partnered with Singapore’s largest telecommunications operator to provide live deployments for retail and workplace security during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Their retail products help measure and control overcrowding, perform temperature control, and have features that help businesses comply with safe work practices.

Unlike conventional technology, the system can also provide real-time aggregate people counts at entry and exit points. These analyzes on building occupancy are useful in encouraging retailers to promote social distancing and / or limit the number of entrants.

Image Credit: Seventh Sense

Their products range from a detailed analysis and temperature control solution to an employee and visitor management solution with portal-related access control.

Obviously, this product is coming at an opportune time given Singapore’s gradual reopening of schools and retail spaces. In addition, public places such as shopping centers do away with manual projections.

The technology solution can also be positioned in crowded places like healthcare facilities and educational institutions and is linked to the SafeEntry system.

Explain to the layman

Varun revealed that the biggest challenge in setting up Seventh Sense was “communicating the difficult technical details”.

With the implementation of facial recognition in smartphones, they are often asked if the technology is being commoditized.

Most people don’t realize that a 1: 1 match on a phone is very different from a 1: N match.

Additionally, people often think of the technology as one frontal image (mugshot) with another frontal image (mugshot). The reality is quite different for “in the wild matching”.

– Varun Chatterji, co-founder and chief software architect of Seventh Sense

Apparently, it took them over a year to educate investors and customers on the realities of facial recognition.

Dashboard / image credit: Seventh Sense

“We’re also being asked how we can compete with graphics processing units (GPUs) with less powerful devices. The answer is not always as simple as “we do X”. We do a variety of things that over the years have helped us get to where we are, ”Varun continued.

Another challenge they have encountered is finding talent in machine learning.

“Getting to a squad of 12 was quite a challenge,” he said.

Raise funds for Series A

To date, Seventh Sense has launched a seven-digit round table with Cap Vista and 500 startups, as well as two local angel investments.

They are currently lifting a Series A tour and have “commitments from all of their existing investors, with a handful of new investors in the pipeline,” which Varun says is “interesting and challenging” in a post-Covid-19 world.

Image Credit: Seventh Sense

At this point, they have a pipeline of several major product deployment contracts and commitments and he sees the need to expand the team to meet them.

“Our next goal is to build a larger research team and tackle some issues that require rigorous research,” said Varun.

“With the expansion of our team, we will be able to achieve some of our more difficult goals, such as developing and building products around our hard-earned IPs – US Patent (US16 / 431,818) and a few others in development course. “

So how deep is the technology deep?

With more and more companies adopting solutions that embody AI, machine learning or blockchain, deep technology is becoming more common in businesses.

To further accelerate the commercialization of deep technology, the Singapore government has committed S $ 19 billion to the development of deep technology startups.

But does that mean that deep technology is getting commercialized?

Far from it, Varun said.

It can take up to four to five years for deep tech companies to get started. After all, it’s not called “deep tech” for nothing.

Very simply, deep technology can be defined as a scientific breakthrough that can potentially change human life for the better.

Sectors in which deep technology has made gigantic advancements include biotechnology, life sciences, clean technology, and computer science. The latest drugs and medical devices, as well as 3D printing are all examples of deep technology.

It is only through extensive testing that the impact of each deep technology development can be determined.

This is how deep tech companies stand out from companies like Facebook or Airbnb.

For budding entrepreneurs looking to get their hands on deep tech, Varun has a few tips:

Don’t jump on a smart idea. Validate the idea before considering making it a business. Try to find support for your idea. Then, and only then, if you start.

Ideas are cheap. Execution is not.

– Varun Chatterji, co-founder and chief software architect of Seventh Sense

Featured Image Credit: Seventh Sense

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