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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Academics & Research

College of Technology to launch AI Retail Lab


AI retail lab

The College of Technology is located on the UH Sugar Land campus. | Haya Panjwani/The Cougar

A new Artificial Intelligence Retail Innovation Lab is launching at the UH College of Technology, with hopes of using advanced technology to facilitate all types of shopping experiences and other creative real-world applications.

While the lab is currently still in production, professor of practice and AI Retail Innovation Lab leader David Crawley anticipates it will be operational by Summer 2022. This will include curriculum, research activity and internship opportunities for students.

“A key impact is giving students and faculty real-world insight and interaction with advanced applied technologies that are relevant to the future of retail and commerce before they become mainstream,” Crawley said.

The lab will be leveraging a partnership with marketing consultant company Relationshop, which specializes in digital engagement, shopper loyalty and personalization of the shopping experience using artificial intelligence.

“This academic and commercial partnership with Relationshop accelerates the understanding and advancement of applied technology to keep pace with the unparalleled growth of digital retail as a result of COVID,” said UH College of Technology Dean Anthony Ambler.

The current focus while setting up the AI Retail Innovation Lab is working with Relationshop’s data scientists to optimize data sets. Looking forward, the lab will be able to simulate in-person and online retail business environments as well as shopper purchasing patterns for researchers to work with various new technologies.

One project that Crawley is excited about is the exploration of frictionless technology. With this in practice, customers would download a phone app with technological connections to their preferred payment method and to the store’s products. Shoppers would then walk into the store and take whatever they would like to purchase, with no check-out process necessary.

The lab’s focus stretches far beyond just retail, however. Cybersecurity research can be applied to protecting companies’ data and faculty will be able to access the lab’s data to incorporate into their classes, with all personal data unidentified to protect individuals’ identities.

The AI aspects can be woven into other retail environments, including hospitality, travel and healthcare.

Crawley and his team are now working with a healthcare company that produces and distributes millions of kits annually to screen for colon cancer. They will combine this company’s cancer data maps with Relationshop’s food retail data maps to figure out if there’s a correlation between food consumption and cancer.

The AI Retail Innovation Lab will contribute to the continuing expansion of UH Sugar Land, with plans to integrate it into the College of Technology’s Advanced Technology Innovation & Research Center.

“As far as we can tell, no one has done this sort of thing before,” Crawley said. “But then again, that’s what our innovation program does consistently.  We’re creating tomorrow by building today.”

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