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6/27/2013
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U.K. Startup Offers Neural Net-Based Fashion System

Cortexica's Find Similar for Fashion analyzes images to help consumers find clothing and accessories with similar characteristics.

British startup Cortexica Vision Systems is using software originally developed by artificial intelligence researchers to help shoppers find their next fashion bargain.

The company, which was spun out of London's Imperial College in 2009, has announced Find Similar for Fashion, an app that uses visual search technology to enable consumers to find clothing and accessories by simply taking a picture of an item.

Replicating the way our eyes and brains work together to recognize patterns, the app analyzes the image, searches for items with similar characteristics in color, shape or design, and returns images of the similar items to the user. "This system models what goes on in our own neurons to mimic the same level of accuracy our own brains offer," Cortexica's VP of business development Steve Semenzato told Information Week.

[ Is the U.K. poised to become the next technology hub? Read Britain: The New 'Silicon Island'? ]

"What Cortexica's Find Similar software does is broaden the choices available to the consumer, serving up similar and often better items available elsewhere," CEO Iain McCready explained. "Most shoppers have experienced that deep feeling of frustration after hunting endlessly and aimlessly for an item of clothing that they've admired. They've also had the experience of seeing an expensive item and wondering whether they might be able to find something similar [that's] more affordable."

Find Similar for Fashion uses parallel probabilistic computation, a neural net learning system that finds visual key points of interest tied to patterns in images and video. It also lets shoppers take visual clues from sources such as wallpaper, color swatches, or items worn by others.

As part of Imperial College's Imperial Innovations program, which seeks to develop commercial products from intellectual property developed in British higher education, Cortexica already supplies pattern-matching software to eBay Motors. That application analyzes photographs of cars to help buyers find similar models available on eBay. Cortexica has also developed systems to help U.K. retail firms, including Tesco, search for wines.

Several leading U.K. fashion retailers are currently testing the software, according to Cortexica. It will be integrated into websites and mobile phone-based apps ahead of a full launch in the fall.

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