Department Store Mannequins Are Watching You. No, Really.

A mannequin equipped with webcams and software analyzes shoppers.

ByABC News
November 26, 2012, 3:21 PM

Nov. 26, 2012 — -- A well-dressed, picture-perfect mannequin stands still in a middle of a department store. She looks like any other life-size figure you've seen in stores for so long, except she can see and hear.

No, she isn't Kim Catrall and, no, we're not describing that 1987 movie "Mannequin." An Italian company, by the name of Almax, has created a bionic mannequin of sorts.

It has cameras for eyes, audio recording capabilities, an embedded computer to analyze shoppers' faces, and a modem to upload the data to a server. Called the EyeSee Mannequin, it's meant to provide more data to retailers and department stores about shoppers, says its creator.

"The EyeSee can tell if a shopper is male or female, his or her age range, how much time you spent looking at it and its outfit," Max Catanese, the CEO of Almax, told ABC News. The EyeSee can also tell the ethnicity of shoppers.

The goal, as you might assume, is for stores to know more about who is shopping and looking at the displays. How long you looked at one mannequin versus others, how many types of shoppers come into the store, etc.

"The potential is huge. A store can really know who their client is. Let's say you have eight floors and six floors are for women and two are for men, but you find out 80 percent of the shoppers are male. You want to change the ratio and switch it," Catanese said. The computer inside the mannequin captures data about each of the shoppers it sees and then uploads that to a portal, so that the store can see the statistics.

But while it feels like spying and a real invasion of privacy, it's not meant to be, says Catanese. The EyeSee does not store any images or record video. It also doesn't record audio, though it will have the ability to listen for trends soon.

"It might capture soon the keywords between people. Say, you are in front of a mannequin with a blue dress, and you say to your friend, 'It would be wonderful to have it in red,' " he said. "It will capture the words and analyze the words; not record it."

So, when will these mannequins start analyzing you? They might already be. Not only does Almax sell the EyeSee to stores oversees, it already has one client in the U.S. "It is already in some stores in the U.S., but I cannot disclose the client."

Of course, many stores don't beleive in tracking shoppers in this way. Bloomberg reports that stores like Nordstrom and Benetton are not sold on the technology. Almax will be showcasing the high-tech mannequin in New York City in early December, hoping to get more stores to feature them.

When asked if the mannequin could analyze faces or emotions, Cantese said, "There is some technology that is starting to give data like that, but it isn't advanced enough to give information about happiness, etc. In the future we will have it."

Let's just hope in the future those mannequins don't also get an update that allows them to love. If we remember correctly, that's the part that got the mannequin in the 1987 movie in trouble.