Pact Group eyes AI for workplace safety boost

Packaging company prepares for on-site trial of computer vision system

ASX-listed packaging manufacturer Pact Group is examining the potential of cloud-based AI services to boost workplace safety.

The company is preparing to stage an on-site trial of a system built using Microsoft’s Computer Vision API — one of Microsoft’s cognitive services delivered through Azure.

Group chief information officer Michael Ross told Computerworld on the sidelines of a Microsoft event in Sydney dedicated to AI that Pact’s interest in the object recognition technology had been sparked by a demonstration at the technology company’s Build conference.

“We sent a note to Microsoft to say, ‘Is this real or is it a kind of canned demo.? They came back and said no — it’s very, very real.’”

Pact has used the service to build a proof of concept kiosk that demonstrates a safe on-boarding process for employees at its manufacturing sites.

The proof of concept was built by Microsoft’s Rebecca Lyons, who pulled it together in a matter of weeks. “Within three weeks she’d basically built up a mock design,” Ross said.

Using a consumer-grade webcam, the kiosk employs facial recognition to check whether someone entering a site is a known employee and also whether they are wearing a safety vest and hardhat.

The design was taken to the Pact board to demonstrate the real-world potential of AI.

“They were very, very responsive to it and that’s basically given us the go-ahead to start to explore how we would apply this to the real world at one of our sites with a view of hopefully trying to provide a frictionless experience that will actually amplify people’s awareness of and adherence to OHS compliance when they arrive on site,” Ross said.

The system will potentially be able to recognise that an individual is using a particular tool and automatically check if they have the authority to use it — escalating to a human if necessary.

Ross said the company is planning to stage a trial in Melbourne early in 2018.

The CIO said that Pact has shifted more than 90 per cent of its core workloads to Azure.

According to Ross, the company is planning to roll out Skype chatbots, with the aim that within a year 40 per cent of back-office interactions will involve bots.

Microsoft boosts AI tools

Microsoft today revealed a number of new and enhanced AI-related offerings, including Visual Studio Tools for AI, which incorporates support for Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit, Tensorflow and Caffe. The vendor also launched a preview of Azure IoT Edge and updates to Azure’s machine learning services.

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