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Artificial intelligence is changing the way cameras work, leveraging these devices into analytical tools based on data. A new breed of chips tuned for artificial intelligence is arriving to help cameras in public spaces, stores, sidewalks, and homes make sense of what they see. Smart cameras with built-in AI can be used to gather marketing data, or assist law enforcement, for example. The new chip unveiled by Qualcomm can help security cameras and other devices better analyze images.

In demos, Qualcomm’s camera performed tricks like recognizing individuals from their faces, and detecting and tracking a package held in a person’s hands. Thanks to the new chip, the device could do this independently, without tapping a server in the cloud for analysis. Qualcomm and others working on similar hardware argue this will help AI-enhanced cameras sprout in more places, because they won’t need to rely on a home’s or business’s bandwidth, and can react more quickly.

Products based on the chip are expected to hit the market before the end of the year. Qualcomm already ships 1 million chips a day for use in Internet of Things devices, including products from Google’s Nest.

Democratizing automated surveillance could also bring downsides, according to One Qualcomm partner,, offers software that can log how long people of different sexes and ages linger in various parts of a store. The startup says it won’t let the software identify individual shoppers, but others are willing to offer that feature. Chinese startup Horizon Robotics has developed its own smart camera chip that it says can be used to detect when a particular shopper walks in the door. The company’s chip, like Qualcomm’s, is customized to run the neural network software that powers recent improvements in image recognition. Horizon says that one of its cameras can be loaded with up to 50,000 different faces, and recognize anyone almost instantly, with 99.7 percent accuracy. The company claims that it is working with government agencies, shopping malls, and stores in China that want to find the faces of suspects, or VIP shoppers when they enter a store.