Ottawa AI startup hopes system that tracks two-metre threshold strikes chord with retailers

Braiyt Ai founders
Braiyt Ai founders Tamey McIntosh and Warsame Ahmed. Photo provided

An Ottawa startup is hoping its system that uses security cameras and artificial intelligence software to determine if customers are maintaining proper social distancing in retail stores will be a springboard to growth.

Launched in late 2018, Braiyt Ai has been developing a “touchless check-in” system that uses facial recognition technology to help potential customers in the security and retail sectors identify clients. The startup, which is based in Wellington West, is also working on technology that uses AI to instantly recognize licence plates as a means for tracking vehicles or helping retailers such as drive-through restaurants quickly identify repeat customers.

But when COVID-19 hit and physical distancing measures were imposed to limit its spread, the fledgling enterprise switched gears in an effort to find a way to help retailers prevent shoppers from clustering too close together in their stores.

The result is BraiytVu, which employs AI algorithms to measure the distance between customers captured on security cameras. Customers maintaining a safe two-metre threshold from each other are outlined in green, while those who are getting too close to each other are highlighted in red. 

The video is pushed to a handheld device, allowing store employees to monitor crowded areas and take steps to rearrange a store’s layout or urge customers to spread out. 

“The problem with that is, even though you have 50 per cent (capacity) in the store, it is not a clear indicator that these people are dispersed around the store,” says Warsame Ahmed, a data analytics expert at Transport Canada who co-founded Braiyt with business partner Tamey McIntosh. 

“We wanted to be able to provide an opportunity for store managers to understand what’s happening inside their stores.”

Ahmed says big-box retailer Costco is interested in seeing a prototype of the product, and he’s hoping other retailers will also warm up to the concept. 

McIntosh, the former managing partner of digitalOttawa, is the bootstrapped venture’s only full-time employee. Its team of seven data scientists and developers, as well as Ahmed, are all part-timers while the venture waits to land its first paying customer, something Ahmed and McIntosh anticipate will happen sooner rather than later. 

Meanwhile, the company has also applied for funding from Ontario’s Small Business Innovation Challenge program and is talking with a number of potential angel investors.

“We’re hoping that if things go well … that we could be in revenue in a very short period of time,” Ahmed says.

He sees a bright future for AI technology in the merchandising space, saying it will allow brick-and-mortar retailers to quickly glean valuable insights such as which items are most popular and what parts of a store might need to be reconfigured to improve traffic flow and make the shopping experience more efficient. 

“There is a value to understanding what’s happening in your retail store,” he says. “It is a data-driven world.”

Braiyt isn’t the only local tech firm looking to grab a piece of the growing market for AI technology targeted at retailers.

Earlier this month, Kanata’s March Networks launched a platform that uses the company’s video surveillance technology and sophisticated sensors to automatically keep track of the number of customers in a store and alert managers when a space is at capacity.