Imagine knowing what displays your customers walk right past, what ones they stop and linger at, when your store is at its busiest, which areas of the store customers visit most frequently, which products are being picked up the most, and even where theft is taking place.

All that and much more is now possible, and it is being done without capturing what’s called personally identifiable information (PII), or data about the individual identity of people in the store. And this immensely valuable information is being gathered via a new technology called lidar.

Lidar technology is similar to radar or sonar, but instead of using radio or sound waves, it measures the time of flight (ToF) of laser points to build three-dimensional, real-time information about the physical world. The laser points that are generated by lidar are called the point cloud. This technology has been widely used in autonomous vehicles (AVs) and geographical mapping from drones. And new innovations have dramatically reduced costs to enable lidar for use in smart spaces such as retail, airports, event spaces, facilities, healthcare campuses and so forth. With the addition of machine learning techniques, this data can provide a wealth of valuable insights for enhancing operations, safety and the holy grail of retail, customer experience. 

The Hitachi 3D Lidar Sensor is the product behind this magic, and it offers granular resolution and close-range data that can be stitched together from multiple devices to provide full coverage of a particular area. One sensor provides 3D sensing in light or dark environments thanks to a self-generated infrared (IR) laser light emitter and receiver. 

Valuable Insights While Protecting Privacy 

Because lidar uses laser “point clouds” and not natural light, it does not capture personally identifiable information (PII) about the individual identity of people within its field of view. This opens up an array of use cases where video security or video analytics would be restricted. These zones include hospital facilities, restroom and hand-washing areas, schools with minors present, and the aforementioned retail scenario where people may object to video monitoring. Lidar is an ideal solution in these use cases, as it enables GDPR1-compliant data gathering in public or private spaces. 

People and Object Movement 

Due to the 3D nature of lidar data, it is well-suited for determining different objects in the field of view. It is effective in situations that might be confusing for video analytics, including low-angle, crowded areas such as stores, transit stations, elevators or passenger rail cars. It can also detect distance between objects in real time for real-time alerts and statistical information. 

Safety and Protection

By detecting anomalous behavior, lidar solutions can help with alerts for “slip-and falls,” security breaches, unsafe behavior or intrusion into restricted areas, or unsafe distances between people and dangerous machines or robots. Lidar solutions can also detect anomalous behavior on retail floors, such as shoplifting and other theft. 

Business and Customer Insights

Just as online retailers use granular visitor data to refine their marketing and inventory, brick-and-mortar retailers can now have similar insights for the physical world. Hitachi 3D Lidar Sensors provides a wealth of insights about customer behavior, product interactions, and visitor journeys throughout facilities. Retailers can use these insights to manage staffing, inventory, marketing messaging, store arrangement and more. They can also combine them with other data, such as point-of-sale (POS), inventory tracking, enterprise resource planning (ERP), video analytics or beacon technology, and online store information. And there’s an omnichannel play here as well, as lidar offers a powerful addition to a business data ecosystem that can also help enrich a retailers’ online insights as well. 

Valuable Data Source for Smart Spaces/Smart Operations

Lidar tech becomes a data source that complements many other types of data to achieve smarter spaces and smarter operations. These additional data types could include video intelligence, internet of things (IoT) sensors, business data from ERP systems and so forth. Every environment is unique in one way or another and each requires the right data mix to maximize return on data and help organizations reach business, safety or operational goals. 

As both consumers and retail spaces continue to evolve, any means by which retailers can gain insights into customer behavior is golden. The more they can tailor in the in-store experience to better engage and enthrall the consumer, the more likely they’ll make a purchase, and perhaps more important, the more likely they’ll return to that location in the future.