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AZ Tech Beat | March 26, 2019

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Startup Aqwastream uses Intel’s face detection tech to save the planet and sell ads

Startup Aqwastream uses Intel’s face detection tech to save the planet and sell ads
Carlene Reyes

In a single second, 1,500 plastic water bottles are consumed in the United States. And of the 50 billion bottles of water that are bought each year, 80 percent end up in landfills.

That’s just too big a number for the Scottsdale-based Aqwastream. The three-person startup is determined to improve these stats through the use of their network of free digital water bottle refilling stations, called Aqwastream Refill and Information Station, or ARIS-32-1. It serves as a mechanism to reduce plastic, but also incorporates Intel created technology to advertise and collect marketing data.

Their first station stands in a corner of Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Fitness Complex in Tempe where it’s already close to filling 1,000 bottles every two days according to Aqwastream CEO Mare Van Dyke.

“It’s a really important issue for the environment, and people don’t want to fill their bottles with water that doesn’t taste good,” she said of the station’s appeal, noting that there has been an increasing push from universities and even entire cities to vastly reduce plastic consumption.

But how does the eco-friendly ARIS-32-1 help advertisers?

Thirsty people walk up to the 90-inch tall station to fill their bottles, and while they’re refilling two things happen:Aqwastream Refilling Station

A 32-inch screen broadcasts advertisements, while a small camera positioned at eye level scans anyone within a 25-foot radius as well as the single user’s face, collecting general data using Intel’s AVA (Anonymous Video Analytics) Technology. AVA can only detect someone if their face is visible to the camera.

AVA Technology determines a person’s gender, age, time of day and duration stayed at the the refilling station by detecting “whether arrangements of pixels resemble the general pattern of human faces, using such factors as the pixel density and alignment around eyes,” according to a white paper published by Privacy by Design, an organization focusing on best practices in privacy tech.

Wherever we go, technology watches and records our every move, so it’s understandable that more and more people are concerned about their privacy. Van Dyke assures that Aqwastream isn’t collecting details that could identify someone so there’s no need to be concerned.

“We don’t want to infringe on the privacy of people coming in. That’s not our role,” she said. “Our role is just to be able to tell marketers that their content is being seen. And how old the people are who are seeing it and what gender they are. Not who they are. “

Aqwastream’s website discloses that the AVA technology is being used, but the ARIS-32-1 does not let users know that their faces are being scanned. Van Dyke explained that Aqwastream doesn’t feel the need to add a disclaimer to the stations because data that would identify a person is not being used.

And according to the same white paper, AVA doesn’t even have the ability do this: “The algorithm does not have the capability to recognize individual faces, and there is no database used to match faces against, as would be the case with facial recognition technology.”

The information that gets massaged back to advertisers is delivered in numbers and in the forms of charts and graphs, not faces.

Aqwastream Bar Graph

And while Aqwastream is hoping to monetize by collecting this data to help advertisers determine target audiences, Van Dyke said their mission is much greater.

“The true value to me is to have a place to communicate sustainable content,” she said.

Aqwastream is currently partnered with environmentally friendly organizations like Surfrider Foundation and Reimagine Phoenix, and plays their ads on their screens for free.

“The idea is if you filling your bottle and you just happen to look up, you just get a bigger picture about things going on in the environment, and you see this station is not only a place to fill your bottle, but an educational piece,” said Van Dyke.

Aqwastream is a recently graduated SEEDSPOT venture. The team hopes to place 25 stations this year in places such as universities and corporate campuses, and is aiming to place an additional 100 next year.

For more coverage of SEEDSPOT ventures click here.

To read more about AVA Technology and how it works click here.

Graphics provided by Aqwastream