Everseen, a Cork-based artificial intelligence company, is cornering the global retail market thanks to their unique technology.
Based in Blackpool, the company is behind the artificial intelligence (AI) that retailers use to protect their stock from theft.
Everseen’s technology uses cameras to monitor the checkout and self-scan areas and can detect when cashiers mistakenly forget to scan an item, and can alert them to scan the item again. It has been reported in the US the Cork company counts retail giant Walmart among its clients along with a number of Irish stores.
Currently, Everseen are working on enabling their AI to recognise more human behaviour, and CEO Alan O’Herlihy says he wants to focus on improving the customer experience. He’s hoping Everseen will be able to detect if customers are struggling with heavy shopping, and the AI can then tell a human staff member to help the customer.
Everseen is also hoping to become powerful enough to do “show and go”, where the AI just needs to see the product to recognise it, and no scanning is required.
Despite the company creating artificial intelligence, there is a surprising human connection to its origins. Alan, from Glenville in Cork, has worked in retail since he was a child. “My parents had a shop in the village. I worked in the business all my life. Back then kids worked in the business too, that’s why people had kids, it wasn’t for love,” he joked.
“I’ve been working behind the counter since I was a kid... and I ran that business when my dad got sick when I was in college. Retail was in my DNA.”
Alan studied software engineering in college. He worked for a German software company for six years but eventually got tired of it. The Northside man says he loved inventing and wanted to get out of the boredom of working for other people. “I opened up a few fast-food franchises in Cork in 2005, they did really well for a few years. Then the recession hit and I had to shut them down, and I lost my house.”
It was around 2007 when Alan first came up with the idea for Everseen. “I didn’t go after the non-scan, I wanted to improve the customer experience, and find out why sales went down and up.”
Alan met Johnathan Burke in 2009, who worked as a security guard in retail for years. He was Everseen’s first employee. “He gave me an analysis of a few hours of video. It was a revelation moment. I thought if I could programme this guy’s brain into software, we could make a business,” explained Alan.
“Most people when they look at the video, they switch after two or three minutes. Johnathan nearly has a photographic memory, he can see sequences and patterns of behaviour.”
Alan was determined to create an AI which could improve retail. He went to the Science Foundation of Ireland with his idea and started working out of Dublin City University (DCU) in 2009. “I met my Chief Technology Officer there. He was Romanian, doing his Ph.D. I showed him my problem. He mentioned the city he came from, Timioara, had a company who were doing computer vision (a precursor to AI). They were doing night vision systems for cars. There were about 1000 people working on that over there.
“That was the kind of people we needed. So we backtracked from there. We went to the local University in Timioara, met some professors, sold them the vision, and they joined the company.”
Now, there are three professors from that Romanian University working full time with Everseen. “The expertise from computer vision, which has now evolved into AI, all came from Timioara. It was nearly (by chance), from me talking to that guy in DCU, from talking to Johnathan Burke about security cameras.”
Everseen now has offices in Cork, New York, Romania, and Serbia, with plans to open a fifth office in Miami.
However, Alan found his Marketing Manager right here in Cork. Dwayne Crowley was Alan’s personal trainer before he joined the Everseen team. The Innishannon man had been a professional MMA fighter previous to working in the Blackpool tech company.
“I trained Alan and another guy, two days a week at 5am, usually people hate coming in at that time, but Alan would race in the door. After a while Alan asked me would I consider joining the company,” said Dwayne. “At the time I was done with the corporate world… I wanted to be a pro-MMA fighter.”
But Dwayne suffered an injury which meant his MMA dreams were put on hold. “I knew I couldn’t go back into the corporate world… but Everseen is just not that. It’s not nine to five, come in and do spreadsheets. The opportunities have been amazing.
When asked about the replacement of human workers with machines, Alan says that’s not what the company is about. Everseen did create a checkout and scanning free store on French Church Street last year. Customers picked up items in the shop, left, checked purchases on an app and approved payment for them. However, Alan says complete automation is not Everseen’s end goal. “It’s sort of like a BMW concept car. We built the store, and then we took components from it we can use.”
“Being the son of a retailer from a small village... robots cannot replace humans in-store. Online is a bigger threat to retail than the automation side. (What we do is) human-centric AI. We try to make the customer experience better, and also let the employee get away from doing mundane stuff, and focus on the added value stuff. Most retail giants are concerned with customer experience. If we can automate the mundane stuff, we can bring the employees out to the front of the store, and have better customer interactions.”
Alan says technology enables retailers to return to prioritising the customer experience.
“My Grandad used to have a mobile shop, he’d drive a van around Ballyhooley, Killavullen, all these places, and people could buy groceries off him. My parents saw the Tesco home delivery van recently and said: ‘Is that not what your Grandad used to do?’”
The Everseen CEO believes in the future, the customer experience will centre on personalisation. “Instead of all of us walking in the front door like ants, getting our shopping, they’re trying to create a different customer experience for each one of us. That requires more (human) labour. So the fight to win retail centres on the personalisation of customer experience.”
Everseen are very proud of their Cork roots. “We are based in Blackpool, our offices look out over the Glen fields, which is a hurling field. That inspires us,” said Alan.“The company is in a good place, and we won’t forget our roots.”