SHAPE AssetTags: a different way to create virtual augmentations for XR spaces

The earlier work with UWB tags generated an idea for something I am calling a SHAPE AssetTag. Essentially, this is a tag that is associated with a virtual SHAPE augmentation. The augmentation follows the position and orientation of the tag, making for a very simple way to implement augmented spaces. If engineered properly, it could be an extremely simple piece of hardware that would be essentially the UWB hardware along with a MEMS IMU and a battery. Instead of WiFi as in this prototype, pose updates could be sent over the UWB infrastructure to make things really simple. Ideally, these would be extremely cheap and could be placed anywhere in a space as a simple way of adding augmentations. These augmentations can be proxy objects (all aspects of a proxy object augmentation can be modified by remote servers) and really can be as simple or complex as desired.

Note that the SHAPE AssetTag doesn’t need to contain the actual asset data (although it could if desired). All it needs to do is to provide a URL of a repository where the asset (either Unity assetbundle or glTF blob) can be found. The asset is then streamed dynamically when it needs to be instantiated. It also provides information about where to find function servers in the case of a proxy object. The SHAPE device app (in this case an iOS app running on an iPad Pro) doesn’t need to know anything about SHAPE AssetTags – they just inject normal looking (but transient) augmentation updates into the SHAPE system so that augmentations magically appear. Obviously, this kind of flexibility could easily be abused and, in real life, a proper security strategy would need to be implemented in most cases. For development, though, it’s nice for things just to work!

One application that I like is a shared space where people can bring along their virtual creations in the form of some SHAPE AssetTags and just place them in the SHAPE-enhanced space so that any user in the space with XR devices could see them.

Another idea is that items in stores could have SHAPE AssetTags attached to them (like security tags today) so that looking at the item with an XR device would perhaps demonstrate some kind of feature. Manufacturers could supply the asset and functions servers, freeing the retail store from having to implement something for every stocked item. This could of course be done with QR codes but then the augmentations would not be physically locked to the item, something that could enable some very interesting augmentations. The item could be picked up and moved but the augmentation would retain the correct physical pose with respect to the item.

For now, the hardware is a complete hack with multiple components but it does prove that the concept is viable. In the photo above, the UWB tag (the white box on the floor under the figure’s right foot) controls the location of the augmentation in the physical space. A Raspberry Pi fitted with an IMU provides orientation information and drives the resulting pose via WiFi to the SHAPE servers. The augmentation is the glTF sample CesiumMan and includes animation data. Here are a couple of videos showing how the augmentation tracks the UWB tag around and that the IMU controls the augmentation’s orientation.

By the way, the software didn’t quite work first time…

So, is there any point to this? I am not sure. There are obviously many ways of doing the same thing without any physical hardware. However, the use of UWB makes it easy to achieve consistent results across multiple platforms with different spatial mapping as it provides absolute physical coordinates. Plus, there’s something fun about throwing a small tag on a surface and watching the augmentation appear!

The ghost in the AI machine

The driveway monitoring system has been running full time for months now and it’s great to know if a vehicle or a person is moving on the driveway up to the house. The only bad thing is that it will give occasional false detections like the one above. This only happens at night and I guess there’s enough correct texture to trigger the “person” response with a very high confidence. Those white streaks might be rain or bugs being illuminated by the IR light. It also only seems to happen when the trash can is out for collection – it is in the frame about half way out from the center to the right.

It is well known that the image recognition capabilities of convolutional networks aren’t always exactly what they seem and this is a good example of the problem. Clearly, in this case, MobileNet feature detectors have detected things in small areas with a particular spatial relationship and added these together to come to the completely wrong conclusion. My problem is how to deal with these false detections. A couple of ideas come to mind. One is to use a different model in parallel and only generate an alert if both detect the same object at (roughly) the same place in the frame. Or instead of another CNN, use semantic segmentation to detect the object in a somewhat different way.

Whatever, it is a good practical demonstration of the fact that these simple neural networks don’t in any way understand what they are seeing. However, they can certainly be used as the basis of a more sophisticated system which adds higher level understanding to raw detections.

Object detection on the Raspberry Pi 4 with the Neural Compute Stick 2


Following on from the Coral USB experiment, the next step was to try it out with the NCS 2. Installation of OpenVINO on Raspbian Buster was straightforward. The rt-ai design was basically the same as for the Coral USB experiment but with the CoralSSD SPE replaced with the OpenVINO equivalent called CSSDPi. Both SPEs run ssd_mobilenet_v2_coco object detection.

Performance was pretty good – 17fps with 1280 x 720 frames. This is a little better than the Coral USB accelerator attained but then again the OpenVINO SPE is a C++ SPE while the Coral USB SPE is a Python SPE and image preparation and post processing takes its toll on performance. One day I am really going to use the C++ API to produce a new Coral USB SPE so that the two are on a level playing field. The raw inference time on the Coral USB accelerator is about 40mS or so meaning that there is plenty of opportunity for higher throughputs.

Object detection on the Raspberry Pi 4 with the Coral USB accelerator


SSD object detection with the Coral USB accelerator had been running on a Raspberry Pi 3 but the performance was disappointing and I was curious to see what would happen on the Raspberry Pi 4.


This is the test rt-ai design. The UVCCam and MediaView SPEs are running on an Ubuntu desktop, the CoralSSD SPE is running on the Raspberry Pi 4. It is getting a respectable 12fps with 1280 x 720 frames (an earlier version of this post had reported much worse performance but that was due to some silly image loading code). The utilization of one CPU core is around 93% which is fair enough for a Python SPE. I am sure that a C++ version of this SPE would be considerably faster again.

Getting this running at all was interesting as the Pi 4 requires Raspbian Buster and that comes with Python 3.7 which is not supported by the edgetpu_api toolkit at this point in time.

After writing the original blog post I discovered that in fact it is trivial to convert the edgetpu_api installation to work with Python 3.7. Without doing any virtualenv and Python 3.5 stuff, just run install.sh (modified as described below to recognize the Pi 4 and fix the sudo bug) and enter these commands:

cd /usr/local/lib/python3.7/dist-packages/edgetpu/swig
sudo cp _edgetpu_cpp_wrapper.cpython-35m-arm-linux-gnueabihf.so _edgetpu_cpp_wrapper.cpython-37m-arm-linux-gnueabihf.so

Turns out all it needed was a correctly named .so file to match the Python version. Anyway, if you want to go the Python 3.5 route…

The ARM version of the Python library is only compiled for Python 3.5. So, Python 3.5 needs to be installed alongside Python 3.7. To do this, download the GZipped source from here and expand and build with:

tar xzf Python-3.5.7.tgz
cd Python-3.5.7
sudo apt-get install libssl-dev
./configure --enable-optimizations
sudo make -j4 altinstall
virtualenv --python=python3.5 venv
source venv/bin/activate

The result of all of this should be Python 3.5 available in a virtual environment. Any specific packages that need to be installed should be installed using pip3.5 as required. Regarding numpy, I found that the install didn’t work for some reason (there were missing dependencies when imported) and I had to use this command (as described here):

pip3.5 install numpy --upgrade --no-binary :all:

Now it is time to install the edgetpu_api which is basically a case of following the instructions here. However, install.sh has a small bug and also will not recognize the Pi 4.

Modify install.sh to recognize the Pi 4 by adding this after line 59:

  elif [[ "${MODEL}" == "Raspberry Pi 4 Model B Rev"* ]]; then
    info "Recognized as Raspberry Pi 4 B."
    LIBEDGETPU_SUFFIX=arm32
    HOST_GNU_TYPE=arm-linux-gnueabihf

Once that is added, go to line 128 and replace it with:

sudo udevadm control --reload-rules && sudo udevadm trigger

The original is missing the second sudo. Once that is done, the Coral USB accelerator should be able to run the bird classifier example.

MobileNet SSD object detection using the Intel Neural Compute Stick 2 and a Raspberry Pi

I had successfully run ssd_mobilenet_v2_coco object detection using an Intel NCS2 running on an Ubuntu PC in the past but had not tried this using a Raspberry Pi running Raspbian as it was not supported at that time (if I remember correctly). Now, OpenVINO does run on Raspbian so I thought it would be fun to get this working on the Pi. The main task consisted of getting the CSSD rt-ai Stream Processing Element (SPE) compiling and running using Raspbian and its version of OpenVINO rather then the usual x86 64 Ubuntu system.

Compiled rt-ai SPEs use Qt so it was a case of putting together a different .pro qmake file to reflect the particular requirements of the Raspbian environment. Once I had sorted out the slight link command changes, the SPE crashed as soon as it tried to read in the model .xml file. I got stuck here for quite a long time until I realized that I was missing a compiler argument that meant that my binary was incompatible with the OpenVINO inference engine. This was fixed by adding the following line to the Raspbian .pro file:

QMAKE_CXXFLAGS += -march=armv7-a

Once that was added, the code worked perfectly. To test, I set up a simple rt-ai design:


For this test, the CSSDPi SPE was the only thing running on the Pi itself (rtai1), the other two SPEs were running on a PC (default). The incoming captured frames from the webcam to the CSSDPi SPE were 1280 x 720 at 30fps. The CSSDPi SPE was able to process 17 frames per second, not at all bad for a Raspberry Pi 3 model B! Incidentally, I had tried a similar setup using the Coral Edge TPU device and its version of the SSD SPE, CoralSSD, but the performance was nowhere near as good. One obvious difference is that CoralSSD is a Python SPE because, at that time, the C++ API was not documented. One day I may change this to a C++ SPE and then the comparison will be more representative.

Of course you can use multiple NCS 2s to get better performance if required although I haven’t tried this on the Pi as yet. Still, the same can be done with Coral with suitable code. In any case, rt-ai has the Scaler SPE that allows any number of edge inference devices on any number of hosts to be used together to accelerate processing of a single flow. I have to say, the ability to use rt-ai and rtaiDesigner to quickly deploy distributed stream processing networks to heterogeneous hosts is a lot of fun!

The motivation for all of this is to move from x86 processors with big GPUs to Raspberry Pis with edge inference accelerators to save power. The driveway project has been running for months now, heating up the basement very nicely. Moving from YOLOv3 on a GTX 1080 to MobileNet SSD and a Coral edge TPU saved about 60W, moving the entire thing from that system to the Raspberry Pi has probably saved a total of 80W or so.

This is the design now running full time on the Pi:


CPU utilization for the CSSDPi SPE is around 21% and it uses around 23% of the RAM. The raw output of the CSSDPi SPE is fed through a filter SPE that only outputs a message when a detection has passed certain criteria to avoid false alarms. Then, I get an email with a frame showing what triggered the system. The View module is really just for debugging – this is the kind of thing it displays:


The metadata displayed on the right is what the SSDFilter SPE uses to determine whether the detection should be reported or not. It requires a configurable number of sequential frames with a similar detection (e.g. car rather than something else) over a configurable confidence level before emitting a message. Then, it has a hold-off in case the detected object remains in the frame for a long time and, even then, requires a defined gap before that detection is re-armed. It seems to work pretty well.

One advantage of using CSSD rather than CYOLO as before is that, while I don’t get specific messages for things like a USPS van, it can detect a wider range of objects:


Currently the filter only accepts all the COCO vehicle classes and the person class while rejecting others, all in the interest of reducing false detection messages.

I had expected to need a Raspberry Pi 4 (mine is on its way đŸ™‚ ) to get decent performance but clearly the Pi 3 is well able to cope with the help fo the NCS 2.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B with Coral Edge TPU acceleration running SSD object detection


It wasn’t too hard to go from the inline rt-ai Edge Stream Processing Element using the Coral Edge TPU accelerator to an embedded version running on a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B with Pi camera.  The rt-ai Edge test design for this SPE is pretty simple again:


As can be seen, the Pi + Coral runs at about 4 fps with 1280 x 720 frames which is not too bad at all. In this example, I am running the PiCoral camera SPE on the Raspberry Pi node (Pi7) and the View SPE on the Default node (an i7 Ubuntu machine). Also, I’m using the combined video and metadata output which contains both the detection data and the associated JPEG video frame. However, the PiCoral SPE also has a metadata-only output. This contains all the frame information and detection data (scores, boxes etc) but not the JPEG frame itself. This can be useful for a couple of reasons. First, especially if the Raspberry Pi is connected via WiFi, transmitting the JPEGs can be a bit onerous and, if they are not needed, very wasteful. Secondly, it satisfies a potential privacy issue in that the raw video data never leaves the Raspberry Pi. Provided the metadata contains enough information for useful downstream processing, this can be a very efficient way to configure a system.

AIY Vision Kit + MobileNet+SSD: a smart camera for rt-ai Edge

I decided that it would be fun to try out a Google AIY Vision Kit as a sort of warm-up for the potentially much more significant Edge TPU.

The Vision Kit is basically the same configuration as the ZeroSensor camera except with an extra board in the camera path that can perform inference on the captured images. The kit comes with some frozen graphs that can be used to detect a few things but I thought it would be interesting to try training a MobileNet SSD network with the Pascal VOC 2012 training data which can identify 20 different objects. The instructions for how to do this are here.

Once that was all running, the next step was to integrate it with rt-ai Edge. It’s pretty similar to the earlier full-blown TensorFlow version so it didn’t take too long to get working.

The design is much the same as usual except with the new VisionKit object detection SPE instead of TFObjectDetect or Deeplab. Note that the PiCam and VisionKit SPEs are running on the AIY Vision Kit, whereas the MediaView SPE is running on a desktop.

This is the output from the MediaView SPE. The metadata has been formatted to look exactly the same as the previous TensorFlow detector so that they can be used interchangeably in stream processing networks. I am getting about 2 fps with 640 x 360 images which is actually better than I expected.