Coordinating vision after a fashion

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A spin-out company at Imperial College has developed software that it says will help consumers to make better fashion choices by replicating the way that the eye and brain work together to recognise patterns.

The Cortexica 'Find Similar' software mimics the way the brain processes images and finds similarities. An image of a dress, a blouse or a shirt, for example, is analysed by the software and a series of images of available items are returned with similar characteristics, such as colour, shape and design.  

The company says the software will soon help shoppers to widen their search and make more informed choices. Several leading UK fashion retailers are testing the software, which will be integrated into websites and mobile phone-based apps, ahead of a full launch in the autumn.

The software will also enable shoppers to take visual clues from other sources such as wallpaper or colour swatches and deliver appropriate results.

Iain McCready, CEO of Cortexica, said: 'Most shoppers will have experienced that deep feeling of frustration after hunting endlessly and aimlessly for an item of clothing that they’ve seen or admired. They’ve also had the experience of seeing an expensive item and wondering whether they might be able to find something similar and far more affordable. Our software is the answer to these perennial problems.'

He added: 'What Cortexica’s Find Similar software does is broaden the choices available to the consumer, serving up similar and often better items available elsewhere.'

To develop the software, Cortexica’s team of neuroscientists, visual search scientists and machine learning engineers have replicated the way that the eye and neurons interact when recognising and interpreting an image.  

Cortexica uses what is called 'parallel probabilistic computation', which enables its software to learn over time, mimicking the calculations made by biological neurons in the primary visual cortex of the human brain. By doing so, the software finds visual key points of interest tied to patterns. The technology works with images and videos, opening up an array of opportunities with YouTube videos, Instagram images and more.

Cortexica already supplies software that finds identical items. eBay Motors, for instance, has an app powered by Cortexica software that enables users to take a picture of the back of a car. The image is analysed instantly and cars that are available for sale via eBay are listed for the user to browse.

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