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Researchers in Florida using AI and VR to tackle shoplifters

According to a loss prevention scientist, the objective is to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. 

A team of academics in Central Florida is working to help businesses avoid thieves as large retailers like Target prepare to close some of their locations as a result of retail crime.

The University of Florida’s Loss Prevention Research Council has been collaborating with household companies like Home Depot and Walmart to combat shoplifting.

Senior research scientist Cory Lowe stated that they are reluctant to draw focus to themselves, which means they are trying to navigate their way in and out quietly. They reportedly try to steal items worth many thousands of dollars on a daily basis.

Read Hayes, a co-founder of LPRC, took News 6 behind-the-scenes to demonstrate the most recent technology they are using to keep goods on shop shelves.

A lockable case that is used to store products like disposable razors is one example.

It can’t be a burner phone since one needs to input their mobile phone number and get a code in order to access it, he claimed. It will open once they input the code since it somehow recognises the network they are using.

A customer’s face is required for another variation of the case.

According to Hayes, there has been a collaboration with IT experts in order to try out the new technology and see its effects on a practical level. Interestingly, he also pointed out that, on occasion, he has to step into the thinking pattern of villains. He showed something called a ‘magic bag’.  

He said that some shoplifters or boosters use these bags to transport their loot, but they often line them with foil to get through electronic tag detection systems. They will invest a lot of time in creating magic bags and other magnet systems in an effort to circumvent these security measures. Now, some of these systems will find a magnet or something entering the business.

According to an investigation by News 6, Florida ranks third in the US for the number of shop thefts, which cost local businesses $4.5 billion annually.

Prosecutors have seen a 44% surge in retail theft charges during the previous three years in Orange County, one of the largest tourist shopping destinations.


In fact, they have already seen more instances this year than they did the whole previous one.

According to Hayes, this is one of the reasons his organisation uses techniques like a virtual reality room to teach shops what has to change.

Lowe raised several questions, like how behaviours would come to the fore and how their employees could be helped. He looked at a cashier on the display and evaluated the direction of her gaze, stating that the workstation, in this case, needed to be turned so she could offer help where it was needed. Protecting people, places, and property is the ultimate goal, according to Lowe.

According to Hayes, the team is now developing technology that would enable retailers close by to connect with one another.

A warning with a description of the suspects might be sent to the nearby shops if one of them has a shoplifter or a gang of shoplifters.

He said that the Gainesville region is where technology is being tested.

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