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Forget PLU: Supermarket Scanner Recognizes Fruits, Vegetables

Supermarket apples

C1ssou/FlickrSupermarket apples

If you've ever been stuck at the supermarket register with an apple that's lost its Price Look-Up Code sticker, and a cashier who, despite flipping laminated page after laminated page, can't figure how to charge you for this one piece of fruit, you might appreciate Toshiba's efforts to make everyone's lives easier: its Object Recognition Scanner scans whole fruits and vegetables -- and even varieties within each fruit or vegetable type -- without the need for code look-ups or manual inputs.

The Scanner was demonstrated recently at RetailTech 2012, an industry trade show in Japan. According to DigInfoTV, the cashier only has to hold up the fruit or vegetable in front of a camera; the camera then will recognize the object and scan it into the register. The scanner's camera is specially designed to eliminate noise around the object, "so it can recognize objects very fast, even if they're moving."

Maybe the most nifty thing about this technology is that it not only recognizes objects for what they are but, if all goes well, the camera won't mistake a Fuji for a Gala. Toshiba included three different apples (Fuji, Jonagold, Mutsu) in its demonstration; as the spokesperson explains, "The Fuji and Jonagold originally come from the same stock, so if you're not really familiar with apples, they might look the same. But this scanner can distinguish them, by recognizing subtle differences in pattern and coloration."

Toshiba's Object Recognition Scanner is just one of several fancy machines that are being developed to speed up the supermarket checkout process, but it still has a ways to go until it's ready for its time to shine under harsh supermarket light. The technology, however, does look promising; video of the scanner in action is below.