AI on Raspberry Pi with the Intel Neural Compute Stick

I’ve always been fascinated by AI and machine learning. Google TensorFlow offers tutorials and has been on my ‘to-learn’ list since it was first released, although I always seem to neglect it in favor of the shiniest new embedded platform.

Last July, I took note when Intel released the Neural Compute Stick. It looked like an oversized USB stick, and acted as an accelerator for local AI applications, especially machine vision. I thought it was a pretty neat idea: it allowed me to test out AI applications on embedded systems at a power cost of about 1W. It requires pre-trained models, but there are enough of them available now to do some interesting things.

You can add a few of them in a hub for parallel tasks. Image credit Intel Corporation.

I wasn’t convinced I would get great performance out of it, and forgot about it until last November when they released an improved version. Unambiguously named the ‘Neural Compute Stick 2’ (NCS2), it was reasonably priced and promised a 6-8x performance increase over the last model, so I decided to give it a try to see how well it worked.


I took a few days off work around Christmas to set up Intel’s OpenVino Toolkit on my laptop. The installation script provided by Intel wasn’t particularly user-friendly, but it worked well enough and included several example applications I could use to test performance. I found that face detection was possible with my webcam in near real-time (something like 19 FPS), and pose detection at about 3 FPS. So in accordance with the holiday spirit, it knows when I am sleeping, and knows when I’m awake.

That was promising, but the NCS2 was marketed as allowing AI processing on edge computing devices. I set about installing it on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ and compiling the application samples to see if it worked better than previous methods. This turned out to be more difficult than I expected, and the main goal of this article is to share the process I followed and save some of you a little frustration.

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Hackaday Podcast Ep1 – Seriously, We Know What We’re Doing

First podcast of the new year! Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys look back on the most interesting hacks and can’t-miss articles from the past week (or so). Highlights include abusing IPv6 addresses, underclocking WiFi, taking Wii out of the livingroom, scratch built microphones, computer prophecy coming true, and the end of an automotive era. Full show notes below.

This week, Hackaday Contributor Bob Baddeley came on the show to discuss developments in facial recognition technology and its use in the wild.

Direct Download (45.1 MB MP3)

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Your Face is Going Places You May Not Like

Many Chinese cities, among them Ningbo, are investing heavily in AI and facial recognition technology. Uses range from border control — at Shanghai’s international airport and the border crossing with Macau — to the trivial: shaming jaywalkers.

In Ningbo, cameras oversee the intersections, and use facial-recognition to shame offenders by putting their faces up on large displays for all to see, and presumably mutter “tsk-tsk”. So it shocked Dong Mingzhu, the chairwoman of China’s largest air conditioner firm, to see her own face on the wall of shame when she’d done nothing wrong. The AIs had picked up her face off of an ad on a passing bus.

False positives in detecting jaywalkers are mostly harmless and maybe even amusing, for now. But the city of Shenzhen has a deal in the works with cellphone service providers to identify the offenders personally and send them a text message, and eventually a fine, directly to their cell phone. One can imagine this getting Orwellian pretty fast.

Facial recognition has been explored for decades, and it is now reaching a tipping point where the impacts of the technology are starting to have real consequences for people, and not just in the ways dystopian sci-fi has portrayed. Whether it’s racist, inaccurate, or easily spoofed, getting computers to pick out faces correctly has been fraught with problems from the beginning. With more and more companies and governments using it, and having increasing impact on the public, the stakes are getting higher.

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3D Printed Head Can Unlock Your Phone

[Thomas Brewster] writes for Forbes, but we think he’d be at home with us. He had a 3D printed head made in his own image and then decided to see what phones with facial recognition he could unlock. Turns out the answer is: most of them — at least, those running Android.

The models tested included an iPhone X, an LG, two Samsung phones, and a OnePlus. Ironically, several of the phones warn you when you enroll a face that the method may be less secure than other locking schemes. Conversely, one phone had a faster feature that is known to make the phone less secure.

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Raspberry Pi Offers Soulless Work Oversight

If you’re like us, you spend more time than you care to admit staring at a computer screen. Whether it’s trying to find the right words for a blog post or troubleshooting some code, the end result is the same: an otherwise normally functioning human being is reduced to a slack-jawed zombie. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to quantify just how much of your life is being wasted basking in the flickering glow of your monitor? Surely that wouldn’t be a crushingly depressing piece of information to have at the end of the week.

With the magic of modern technology, you need wonder no longer. Prolific hacker [dekuNukem] has created the aptly named “facepunch”, which allows you to “punch in” with nothing more than your face. Just sit down in front of your Raspberry Pi’s camera, and the numbers start ticking away. It’s like the little clock in the front of a taxi: except at the end you don’t have to pay anyone, you just have to come to terms with what your life has become. So that’s cool.

It doesn’t take much hardware to play along at home. All you need is a Raspberry Pi and the official camera accessory. Though for the full effect you should add one of the displays supported by the Luma.OLED driver so you can see the minutes and hours ticking away in real-time.

To get the facial recognition going, all you need to do is take a well-lit picture of your face and save it as a 400×400 JPEG. The Python 3 script will take care of the rest: checking the frames from the camera every few seconds to see if your beautiful mug is in the frame, and incrementing the counters accordingly.

Even if you’re not in the market for an Orwellian electronic supervisor, this project is a great example to get you started in the world of facial recognition. With a little luck, you’ll be weaponizing it in no time.

Face ID Defeated With 3D Printed Mask (Maybe)

Information about this one is still tricking in, so take it with a grain of salt, but security company [Bkav] is claiming they have defeated the Face ID system featured in Apple’s iPhone X. By combining 2D images and 3D scans of the owner’s face, [Bkav] has come up with a rather nightmarish creation that apparently fools the iPhone into believing it’s the actual owner. Few details have been released so far, but a YouTube video recently uploaded by the company does look fairly convincing.

For those who may not be keeping up with this sort of thing, Face ID is advertised as an improvement over previous face-matching identification systems (like the one baked into Android) by using two cameras and a projected IR pattern to perform a fast 3D scan of the face looking at the screen. Incidentally, this is very similar to how Microsoft’s Kinect works. While a 2D system can be fooled by a high quality photograph, a 3D based system would reject it as the face would have no depth.

[Bkav] is certainly not the first group to try and con Apple’s latest fondle-slab into letting them in. Wired went through a Herculean amount of effort in their attempt earlier in the month, only to get no farther than if they had just put a printed out picture of the victim in front of the camera. Details on how [Bkav] managed to succeed are fairly light, essentially boiling down to their claim that they are simply more knowledgeable about the finer points of face recognition than their competitors. Until more details are released, skepticism is probably warranted.

Still, even if their method is shown to be real and effective in the wild, it does have the rather large downside of requiring a 3D scan of the victim’s face. We’re not sure how an attacker is going to get a clean scan of someone without their consent or knowledge, but with the amount of information being collected and stored about the average consumer anymore, it’s perhaps not outside the realm of possibility in the coming years.

Since the dystopian future of face-stealing technology seems to be upon us, you might as well bone up on the subject so you don’t get left behind.

Thanks to [Bubsey Ubsey] for the tip.

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Chair Dances Like No One Is Watching

Although it might be more accurate to say that this chair dances because no one is watching, the result is still a clever project that [Igor], a maker-in-residence at the National Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Norway, created recently. Blurring the lines between art, hack, and the ghosts from Super Mario, this chair uses an impressive array of features to “dance”, but only if no one is looking at it.

In order to get the chair to appear to dance, [Igor] added servo motors in all four legs to allow them to bend. A small non-moving dowel was placed on the inside of the leg to keep the chair from falling over during all of the action. It’s small enough that it’s not immediately noticeable from a distance, which helps maintain the illusion of a dancing chair.

From there, a Raspberry Pi 3 serves as the control center for the chair. It’s programmed in Python and runs OpenCV for face detection and uses pigpio for controlling the leg servos. There’s also a web interface for watching the camera’s output and viewing its facial recognition abilities. The web interface also allows a user to debug the program. [Igor]’s chair can process up to 3 frames per second at 800×600 pixels.

Be sure to check out the video after the break to see the chair in action. It’s an interesting piece of art, and if those dowels can support the weight of a person it would be a great addition to any home as well. If it’s not enough chair for you, though, there are some other more dangerous options out there.

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