This S’pore Startup Built The Facial Recognition Fever Detection Tech That We See At Malls

The facial recognition technology first saw roots in the 1960s.
Fascinated by it, Varun Chatterji had spent two years learning and grasping various image recognition techniques and while he was at it, he attained a specialisation in Deep Learning-based Computer Vision.
He went on to conceptualise Seventh Sense, an AI tech company with a focus on creating power-efficient and low-cost computer vision systems.
Today, its technology is grounded in an AI-driven facial recognition fever detection solution found in Singapore shopping malls and healthcare facilities.
This facial recognition and thermal camera processing technology allows these public places to do away with the need for manual screenings.
The name Varun Chatterji may not ring a bell immediately, but this man has co-founded various startups – which, at least one, would trigger your memory.
Back in 2003, he met the co-founder of his first startup Darius Cheng (he’s the founder of property portal 99.co) during the NUS Overseas Colleges Programme (NoC) in Silicon Valley.
Varun graduated with a degree in Computer Science in 2005 and set up tenCube with Darius shortly after.
The startup pioneered mobile security and personal information management (contacts, text, emails, phone calls etc) for the then-emerging smartphone market.
“We built “mobile software” before the term “app” became fashionable,” said Varun.
It had counted Singapore Police Force, Defence and Science Technology Agency (DSTA), Centre for Strategic Information Technology (CSIT) among its clients.
He put Singapore onto the world map when tenCube was acquired by McAfee in 2010. That was also when he joined the McAfee team, but left in 2012 when he became interested in Computer Vision instead.
Hailing from India, the 39-year-old was quick to tell us that he “almost didn’t come to Singapore”. He had initially enrolled in an undergraduate course for Physics at St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi but he “really wanted to study Computer Science”.
On seeing how five of his best friends gained admission into local universities here, he applied to the National University of Singapore and got in. He only joined the NoC programme in his third year.
“So, you could say that if I had not been a part of [NUS] and NoC, my life might be quite different,” he laughed.
After tenCube, Varun started exploring Computer Vision to make smart toys for kids such as smart mobile tripods.
These smart gadgets could record a variety of standard shots for videography (smooth pan, smooth zoom etc) to make the life of amateur film makers easier.
Those ideas unfortunately didn’t take off so he went on to start Sent.ly, which was focused on providing customer support over text messaging.
It was during the Sent.ly days when he met Sam, one of his co-founders of Seventh Sense.
Sam was introduced by Ashish (another co-founder at Seventh Sense), whom Varun knew from his childhood days in Kanpur. In later years, Sam became a board member of Sent.ly.
With the emergence of messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and WeChat, the relevance of SMS declined rapidly and so did Sent.ly.
Prior to winding it up in 2017, they tried to pivot to introducing chatbot and chatbot automation for customer support.
The pivot towards chatbots got me interested in Machine Learning and AI. After Sent.ly, I took an online course on Big Data and Social Analytics taught by Alex Pentland from MIT.
The course was an interesting mix of economics and machine learning, and inspired him to look up his other works – that’s how he came across Alex Pentland’s works on facial recognition.
“Facial recognition was quite exciting to me, especially given my earlier interest in Computer Vision, and, in the next year, I educated myself in various image recognition techniques and also completed a Deep Learning specialisation on Coursera taught by Andrew Ng,” said Varun.
Along with Ashish – who had spent 10 years implementing fuzzy logic and artificial neural networks in hardware – and Sam, a veteran CFO and ex-board member in Sent.ly, they founded Seventh Sense in 2017.
I proceeded to develop a prototype system on a…